WASHINGTON D.C. - Rollie Massimino, who was the coach for one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history, died Wednesday, according to a release from Keiser University. He had been battling cancer. He was 82.
For the past 10 years, Massimino has been the coach for Keiser, an NAIA school in West Palm Beach, Fla. But he was most famous for coaching Villanova, which entered the tournament seeded eighth, to the 1985 NCAA championship against Georgetown, the top-ranked team in the country.
Until recent years, Massimino was in relatively good health. He had surgery to remove a tumor in his lung in 2011, suffered a collapsed lung and had brain surgery in 2016. But he was still coaching.
"As our campus community deeply mourns the loss of Coach Massimino, we extend our warmest thoughts and condolences to his wife Mary Jane and the entire Massimino family," Keiser University chancellor Arthur Keiser said in a statement. "We are so truly honored to have shared this time with him and take some degree of comfort in knowing the positive impact he has had on college students for the last four decades remains immeasurable."
The 1985 Villanova championship, though, might be his greatest accomplishment. Coming into the tournament, the Wildcats had lost seven of their final 13 games and lost to St. John's by 15 points in the second round of the Big East Tournament.
Mainly on the strength of the conference, the 19-10 team was seeded eighth in the NCAA tournament. They squeaked by the first two rounds, beating Dayton by two and Michigan by four. They then beat Maryland, North Carolina and Memphis State, all seeded much higher, before facing the tournament favorite Georgetown in the final.
The Hoyas, led by All-American center Patrick Ewing, had beaten Villanova twice in the regular season, and even though both games were competitive and close, nothing indicated this time would be any different. But in the championship game, the Wildcats played a mix of zone and man to man defense -- sometimes in the same possession -- and a deliberate offense, hitting 79% of their shots to pull off what is still considered to be the greatest upset in championship game history.
Massimino left Villanova in 1992, spent two years at UNLV and seven more at Cleveland State before retiring to play golf in South Florida. It was there that an old friend, Rick Smoliak, asked to get advice from Massimino on starting a basketball program at Northwood College (which became Keiser). Instead, when the program started in 2006, Massimino became the coach.
Before going to Villanova in 1973, he spent two seasons at Stony Brook and one season as an assistant coach to Chuck Daly at Penn.
He had an overall coaching record of 816-462 in 41 seasons.
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