College Basketball Update
There he was, atop the shoulders of his players after one of college basketball’s greatest upsets.
That’s the iconic portrait of Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 men’s championship with a stunning 66-64 upset of heavily-favored Georgetown.
“This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Massimino said after the game.
Massimino, 82, died Wednesday of cancer in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was still employed as a coach – at NAIA level Keiser University. His last few days were spent in hospice care, however, not on a basketball court.
Earlier in the week, the basketball world lost Jud Heathcote. He drove Michigan State (with more than a little help from Magic Johnson) to the men’s championship in 1979. That epic title match, won 75-64 by the Spartans, also featured Indiana State and a fellow named Larry Bird. Heathcote was 90.
Massimino spent 19 years at Villanova; Heathcote coached Michigan State for the same number. Massimino employed a bright, young mind at his summer camps during the 1980s, and that’s how Jay Wright came to eventually follow him – replacing Steve Lappas in 2001 as the Wildcats’ coach. Heathcote hired a part-time assistant named Tom Izzo, who took over for him. Each of those students later won a national title.
The beauty of Massimino’s championship was its efficiency. The Wildcats shot 79 percent from the field, hitting 22 of 28 field goal attempts. Imagine, six missed shots against a Georgetown defense anchored in the middle by Patrick Ewing, now Georgetown’s coach.
Massimino collected more than 800 victories and was at Keiser, working almost in obscurity, for the last 11 years. Heathcote retired in 1995 and his program has remained a national power under Izzo.
They were loved by their players and they groomed capable assistants to carry on their life’s work.