John Feinstein: Jay Wright and Rollie Massimino Share a Special Bond

Capture the action from the opening round to the national title game.
By John Feinstein
Sunday, March 29, 2009

BOSTON In the maelstrom, seconds after Scottie Reynolds had hit the shot that will resonate up and down the Main Line for years to come, the young coach went to find the old coach.

After shaking hands with Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon and the heartbroken Pitt players, Jay Wright ran across the court, jumped over the media table and hugged and kissed Rollie Massimino.

Twenty-four years after Massimino took Villanova to the Final Four, Wright had done the same thing. And the first person he thought about was his 74-year-old mentor.

"I'm the coach I am -- whatever that is -- because of him," Wright said. "Not that he doesn't make me nuts about 95 percent of the time I'm with him."

There are a lot of similarities between this Villanova team and the one that stunned Georgetown with "the perfect game" in 1985. Those Wildcats were led by three seniors who quietly got better with each passing season. They were almost an afterthought during most of the Big East season because Georgetown and St. John's were the league's glamour teams, much like Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh were this season.

The coach then and the coach now could hardly be more different. Massimino's game demeanor was best described by his son, R.C., a walk-on that season: "He starts the game looking good. But once it gets going, he kind of unravels."

Wright never unravels. His Armani suits stay perfectly in place, including his vest and the handkerchief he carefully inserts in his breast pocket before he takes the court. He wears cologne, too.

"Of course I wear cologne," he said a couple of hours before Saturday night's tip. "Doesn't everybody?"

As he sat courtside, swapping stories with a few friends, it was difficult to tell that Wright was about to coach in the most important game of his life.

"Look, I'd like to go to the Final Four, I'd especially like it for these kids because they've been so good to work with," he said. "But if it doesn't happen, I'm okay, I understand how this works. It's hard. We've had a pretty good program for a long time and we haven't gotten there for 24 years."

He smiled. "One good thing if we make it -- I won't have to stay up until 4 o'clock in the morning with [Bill] Raftery. I'll have an excuse to sleep."

It took every last ounce of effort from his players, notably Reynolds and the three senior starters: Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark, to get past a Pitt team that also had three seniors who desperately wanted to take their school to the Final Four. Pitt hasn't been there since 1941, when no one had heard the term Final Four yet.

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