Roland Vincent Massimino never looked better. He strutted onto the floor of the Villanova Field House shortly after 5 this afternoon, resplendent and glowing.

Television cameras were set up in every corner of the Cat House, the venerable 60-year-old structure that has been Massimino's kingdom the last 12 years. He peered around the dimly lit gym and took it all in. His players, in their practice outfits, were talking about playing Memphis State Saturday in Lexington, Ky., in the opening game of the Final Four.

Massimino rocked on his heels, master of all he saw, and smiled. He wore a handsome gray jacket with a maroon silk handkerchief in the breast pocket, gray-houndstooth checked pants, a light blue shirt with a matching tie and black-tasseled loafers.

Someone commented that, for a man described by many as the Louie DiPalma of coaches (in honor of the short, rumpled character played by Danny DeVito in the TV series, "Taxi"), Massimino looked pretty sharp.

"Are you kidding?" Massimino roared, jabbing the air with a finger. "I am the best-dressed coach in the country. The best. You bring in any five guys and I guarantee you it'll be like Mickey Mouse against Mickey Mantle. I've bought 20 pairs of shoes in the last month.

"Look at this shirt," he went on, producing an initialed cuff. "I bought this in Hong Kong for $104. I throw away more clothes than most of the coaches in the country buy."

A few feet away, Massimino's son R.C., a junior on this team that has made Massimino's coaching dream finally come true, was laughing as he heard his father's words.

"For about the first 10 minutes of a game, he may be one of the best-dressed coaches around," R.C. Massimino said. "But after that, he starts getting undressed. he starts well, but by the end, well, you know what they call him."

The Cat House was filled with laughter. And joy.

He says he hasn't been able to sleep since Sunday. "I keep waking up in the middle of the night saying, 'I'm here, I'm finally here,' " Massimino said today. "I've waited for this all my life, dreamed about it, thought about it, talked about it.

"It should happen to every coach at least once, just that feeling of looking at the clock in the final seconds of a regional and knowing you have it won."

When he looked at the clock in that final minute Sunday and when he looked on the court with a 56-44 lead over North Carolina and realized that, in a class move, Dean Smith had ordered his players not to foul since the game had been decided, Massimino headed first for his son.

Their embrace was intense, a true bear hug between father and son. "I looked at him and saw it all drain out of him," R.C. said. "He was so exhausted. But so happy."

For R.C.'s father, the trip to this week of celebration has been a long one. During the regular season, when his senior-dominated team went 19-10, he had been grouchy, snappish at times. Perhaps, at 50, he was wondering, if this team doesn't do it, none of his teams may do it.

"I always thought these three seniors had the potential," he said, talking about Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain. "We've certainly had our struggles over the four years and this year. But they've always known, whenever I spank them, I'm gonna kiss them afterwards. That's the way I am with my kids (five of them) at home."

Like most Italian-Americans of his generation, Massimino learned discipline from his immigrant parents. Salvatore Massimino was a shoemaker. Roland was the youngest of four sons. His second and third brothers, both named Tom, were killed, each at the age of 6, several years apart. If anything, that made the Massiminos even closer-knit.

Rollie was a short but talented point guard at Hillside High School in New Jersey. He played at the University of Vermont and returned to New Jersey as a high school coach. His high school coach, Bill Martin, was his closest advisor and, he says, the man who influenced him most as a coach and as a person.

"One thing Bill always told me," he said. "If you don't like what someone says, either tell them or walk away from them. Don't be a phony."

Massimino has never been a phony. He is blunt; some would say sometimes rude. He is opinionated and temperamental. Those that know him best say the soft side of him only comes out in private.

"He's one of those people who is very demanding because he's a perfectionist," said Mitch Buonaguro, who has worked under Massimino for eight years. "He'll scream and yell at the kids on the court but then take them into his office and talk to them about anything but basketball afterward. I don't think there's a kid on this team who wouldn't go to Rollie with a problem."

Discipline at Villanova begins at 6 a.m. three days a week during preseason. The players roll out of bed to run and lift weights. Then, they meet together in the locker room for donuts and milk. "They hate it," Massimino said. "But when they're through here, they understand it. Rory Sparrow (now with the New York Knicks) told me once when I was thinking of giving it up, 'Coach, change anything else, but not that.' We stay close as a team, always."

Massimino enjoys his father-figure role. Last week, as Pinckney stood in the middle of a cluster of reporters, holding back sniffles, Massimino charged into the circle and tossed a handkerchief at his star. "I even gotta tell them when to blow their noses," he huffed, loving every second.

He pushed and he prods. All 34 of his seniors in 12 years here have graduated and this group will, too. Saturday, in a classic Massiminoism, he proudly declared that "our kids can articulate as good as anyone in the country."

Pinckney, the laid-back kid from the Bronx, remembers needing a while to adjust to Massimino's intensity when he first arrived. "It was just so different for me, I wasn't used to it," he said. "It takes a while to understand that everything he says and does is to try to make you better."

Massimino coached for 12 years in high school, for two years at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, then became an assistant for two seasons under Chuck Daley at Pennsylvania before coming here in 1973.

By 1978, he had Villanova in an East Regional final, losing to Duke that year. In 1982 and 1983, the Wildcats again reached the final eight. Again, they lost, both times to teams with much better talent.

This time, though, the opponent in the regional final was a good, but not great, North Carolina team. When Villanova trailed, 22-17, at halftime after shooting 23 percent, Massimino lit into his team during intermission.

"He thought they were just a little in awe because it was Carolina," Buonaguro said. "He has a great sense of when to yell and when not to. They needed to be told that they were good enough to win the game. He just told them, 'Damn it, I'm not going to let you lose. We're too close to lose now.' "

Twenty minutes of play later, Massimino had that moment he says every coach should have. He wept, he hugged, he kissed. He was a rumpled mess, but he was ecstatic. "He couldn't have cared less," said R.C. Massimino, "how he looked."

Monday, after each had stayed up until 5 a.m. celebrating, Massimino and St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca, both the sons of Italian immigrants who wondered if they would ever reach this moment, talked on the phone.

"First," Massimino said, "We talked Italian. We had some fun. I'm so happy for Looie."

Massimino glowed for one more moment. "I'm also happy," he said, "for me."

He brushed his thinning hair into place, tugged at his cuffs and went off to do a live TV spot. Louie DiPalma never had it so good.