Interview Conducted 9/24/2008
It has now been 23 years since the Villanova Wildcats made an improbable run as a #8 seed to win the 1984-85 NCAA tournament.
Led by Head Coach Rollie Massimino, the Wildcats defeated defending National Champion Georgetown 66-64, in a game regarded by most sports fans as one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.
Though Villanova played Georgetown very competitively in their two regular season matchups, losing by scores of 52-50 and 57-50, the Wildcats came into the game as double-digit underdogs.
MASSIMINO: “No one thought we had a chance.”
“I explained to our players that you’re good enough to play in the finals and win it.”
“So I told them to go up to their rooms and reflect that we’re going to play the game to win and not to lose.”
The players responded. They shot a phenomenal 22 of 28 from the field in the game and only missed one shot in the entire second half. Defensively, the Wildcats held Hoya superstar center Patrick Ewing to just 14 points.
Now at almost 74 years old, Massimino still stalks the sideline as the Head Coach at Northwood University, an NAIA Division II school in West Palm Beach, Fla.
So why would Massimino, who now resides in Jupiter, Fla., eschew a life of playing 18 holes every day on the golf course, fishing on the coastlines, and soaking in rays from the year-round warm weather on the beach?
MASSIMINO: “I just thought it was time to get back in coaching. Our athletic director [Rick Smoliak] was a dear friend of mine from when I started coaching at Stony Brook and he was the baseball coach. We were friendly, and when he became the athletic director, he gave me a call and asked me if I was interested in coming.”
“I had to check with my wife. I made that decision when she said yes.”
Massimino was hired as Head Coach and Director of Basketball Operations at Northwood on Sept. 1, 2005. He recruited some players to get acclimated to the program. They did not play any games because construction on Northwood’s athletic facilities had not finished.
In 2006-07 Massimino led the Seahawks in their inaugural season to a 23-9 record and a spot in the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
Northwood improved to 27-8 the following season and advanced to the Elite 8 of the National Tournament.
Massimino shows no signs of slowing down at his age. He’s active on the floor every day during practice and still makes in-home visits to recruits.
His potential recruits, who were born around 1990, have no recollection as to what Massimino accomplished during his illustrious career as the Head Coach of the Villanova Wildcats.
MASSIMINO: “They know through their coaches. We also get a lot of referrals because I have over 20 former assistants of mine help us out.”
Massimino is known by many for his “Family-Style Coaching.” Many former players stay in touch with him after their careers are over. He estimates six or seven call him each week.
In Northwood’s first ever game, a home exhibition loss to Villanova, eight players from his National Championship team made the trip to West Palm Beach for the game.
His own family is just as important. He and his wife, Mary Jane, recently celebrated their 50th Anniversary. All five children, their spouses, and 17 grandchildren united for a weeklong vacation.
MASSIMINO: “It was a wonderful treat.”
Highlights from The 1985 NCAA Championship Game
Rollie Massimino Links:
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