PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rollie Massimino took the stage surrounded by a band, students, and scores of blue-and-white balloons and delivered a speech as fiery as one of his Villanova halftime pep talks.
Thirty one years after Massimino brought an improbable national championship to Villanova, the 80-year-old coaching lifer exhorted protege Jay Wright to win a second title.
“We’re going to win tonight! We’re going to win tonight!” he commanded as the crowd in Houston roared. “You have family here that is part of your own personal family, but you’re part of the Villanova family. That’s why we’re going to win! Just remember, that part of me is we and Villanova’s guys are all in it together. When Jay wins that championship, with all his great players, we’re going to root, root, root for Villanova!”
The Wildcats delivered that night in 2016 for Daddy Mass and won the national championship. Six months later, Massimino returned to campus for a championship celebration and danced a little jig as he took the court. Wright, the cool, calm leader of the Wildcats, choked up when he surprised Massimino with a championship ring. The setting was perfect on a night when the 2016 banner joined the one for Massimino’s ’85 team in the rafters.
With Massimino in hospice care, a long battle with cancer about over, Wright traveled to Florida to say goodbye.
“We just thought if anybody was going to beat cancer and never die, you just thought it was going to be coach Mass,” Wright said Wednesday. “We watched him really struggle at the end, so it’s nice that he went peacefully and with his family. But it’s a big void in this Villanova basketball family because his presence was just so powerful. It impacted current players, current coaches, all his players, the players that came before him, coaches before him. He was just larger than life.”
The patriarch of the Villanova family is now gone. Massimino died Wednesday at his home, with his wife of 59 years and some of those closest to him at his side.
Massimino, who was still the coach at Keiser University, was 82. He won more than 800 games in his coaching career, the most notable of those wins coming when Villanova played “The Perfect Game” and stunned Georgetown for the 1985 NCAA title.
“Coach Mass’ job was to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed,” 1985 Wildcat Gary McLain said.
Massimino, a finalist for enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame this year, was a fixture behind the Villanova bench during its runs to the Final Four in 2009 and 2016. Wright…