Former Villanova coach loses in Philly return

November 6, 2008 7:52:25 PM PST
He scrunched his face and tossed his hands in the air when a call went against him. Rollie Massimino was honored at halftime and there was a reunion of his former Villanova players. The scene all had to look so familiar for Massimino and his Main Line fans, especially when Villanova won this exhibition game.

Only this time, the 73-year-old Massimino was on the losing end. The 23rd-ranked Wildcats spoiled Massimino's Philadelphia homecoming, beating tiny Northwood 75-37 on Thursday night. This one was more about a night with "Daddy Mass," at the archaic Spectrum than worrying about wins and losses.

"It was quite a nostalgic evening," Massimino said. "It was good to see everybody."

Members of the 1985 team that Massimino led to a national championship came out to watch their rumply coach. Chuck Everson, Harold Jensen, Steve Pinone, Gary McLain and Dwayne McClain were among the former Wildcats honored at halftime in a ceremony about as brief as Northwood's flicking thoughts of an upset.

Massimino shared a pregame hug with his star pupil, Villanova coach Jay Wright. Wright and Massimino forged a friendship at a summer basketball camp in 1984 and the relationship has developed into more of a father-son bond - making it even tougher for Villanova's eighth-year coach to face his idol.

"I'm glad it's over," Wright said. "That part I hated."

Wearing a taupe suit and orange tie and matching orange handkerchief, Massimino spent the final few minutes wiping his brow over this one. The bottom of his pants legs hit the floor, making it obvious his always nattily attired protege did not take his fashion cues from Massimino.

Massimino, who coached Villanova from 1973-92, is forever linked to leading the 1985 team to an improbable national championship. Villanova's 66-64 win over Georgetown on April 1, 1985, in Lexington, Ky., is often called The Perfect Game, and the Wildcats are still the lowest seed (8) to win a national title.

They shot 22-for-28 from the field and made nine of 10 attempts during the second half, in an era before the shot clock.

"You learned more about life than you did about basketball," Everson said. "and we learned an awful lot about basketball."

Everson and McClain attended the pregame meal and gave their former coach some good-natured ribbing about the way Wright has copied Massimino's offense.

McLain thought it was great he got to see his former coach on the bench one more time.

"It's a testament to who he is and what he's about," McLain said. "He could be doing a million other things, but he's leading young men. That's Coach Mass in a nutshell."

The scrappy Seahawks kept pace early with the nationally ranked Wildcats and only trailed 26-21 at halftime. Corey Stokes and Scottie Reynolds hit consecutive 3-pointers early in the second half for a 39-21 lead and Villanova started to pull away in a rout.

"I don't like doing that against my mentor, a guy I look up to so much," Wright said.

Dante Cunningham scored 20 points for Villanova and Reynolds had 14.

DeSean White scored 15 points for the Seahawks.

Massimino heard a few calls from the fans for "Coach Mass!" when he walked out shortly before tip. He shared a big embrace with Wright in front of the scorer's table and hugged the rest of Villanova's staff. They chatted some more in front of the bench, maybe about the postgame party for Massimino in the Philly suburbs.

Wright and Massimino hugged again and talked more after the game.

"We needed a little bit of humility," Massimino said. "This was a great opportunity. I thank Jay for being so good to us."

Wright served under Massimino from 1987-92 at Villanova, then another two years with him at UNLV. Massimino, who also coached at Cleveland State, won 357 games in 19 seasons at Villanova.

The Wildcats played without senior forward Shane Clark, who had right knee surgery earlier Thursday and is expected to miss three to six weeks. Clark averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 points in 32 games last season.

Wright said Clark had been "bothered slightly" by pain in his knee, though it had not prevented him for practicing. The Wildcats went 22-13 last season and advanced to the regional semifinals where they lost to national champion Kansas. They are picked to finish fifth in the Big East and open the season Nov. 14 against Albany.

Massimino helped start the Northwood program and the Seahawks started play in 2006. Massimino led them a 50-17 record their first two seasons and consecutive appearances in the NAIA tournament.

Getting a chance to play at the Spectrum - where the 76ers and Flyers won championships - was something Massimino wanted his team to experience.

"I told them that you don't know how lucky you are to play here," Massimino said. "Some great, great players have sat in those same seats you're sitting in now."


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