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Rollie Massimino dies at 82; led Villanova to 1985 title, had 816 wins

Men's College Basketball, Villanova Wildcats

Rollie Massimino, who won more than 800 college basketball games and coached Villanova to an improbable national title in 1985, has died at the age of 82.

Massimino had been battling lung cancer. He died at his home in Florida.

"We just thought if anybody was going to beat cancer and never die, you just thought it was going to be coach Mass,'' Villanova coach Jay 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."

Massimino was best known for leading an eighth-seeded Villanova team to a 66-64 victory against No. 1 seed Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in the 1985 championship game. Massimino compiled a 355-241 record in 19 seasons at Villanova before leaving for UNLV in 1992.

"He's like a father to me," said Ed Pinckney, who starred on Villanova's championship team. "We talked about life, not basketball. I still talked to him all the time. My youngest son, Austin, played for him at Northwood."

Ewing, now the Hoyas' head coach, said in a statement, "The Georgetown family is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Rollie Massimino."

"Coach Massimino recruited me to Villanova in 1981 and we always bonded over our Boston ties. Even though his 1985 team beat us, I have always had nothing but great respect and admiration for him. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time," Ewing said.

Massimino spent two seasons at UNLV (1992-93 and 1993-94) and also was the head coach at Cleveland State for seven seasons, from 1996 to 2003. He continued to coach through this past season at NAIA Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, despite battling health issues. He was the coach at Keiser, which recently changed its name from Northwood, since 2006. Keiser went 23-9 this past season, winning his 800th career game.

Massimino recently went into the hospital and had been surrounded by friends, family and former players over the past few days.

"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 chancellor Arthur Keiser said. "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.''

Massimino grew up in New Jersey and played three seasons at the University of Vermont before beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Cranford High in New Jersey. His first head coaching job came in 1959 at Hillside High in New Jersey. Massimino spent a decade as a high school coach -- winning a Massachusetts state title at Lexington High -- before being hired by Stony Brook in 1969.

Massimino joined Chuck Daly's staff at Penn before becoming the head coach of Villanova in 1973. The Wildcats were an independent at the time, then went into the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League in 1976 before joining the Big East in 1979. Villanova went to 11 NCAA tournaments -- including three Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight and its first national championship -- during Massimino's tenure.

Pinckney said Massimino "was a life coach, not just a basketball coach. Coach was all about family. He was an unbelievable man -- and a great person."

Massimino left Villanova in 1992 to replace Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, but his stint was brief -- just two years and a 36-21 record -- after it was revealed he had cut a side deal with school president Robert Maxson to boost his salary. Massimino got back into coaching two years later and took the head job at Cleveland State, where he was 90-113 in seven seasons.

Including nearly 300 victories while at Northwood/Keiser, Massimino finished with a career record of 816-462.

Weakened by cancer, Massimino made an appearance this summer at Villanova's "Summer Jam," a chance for past and present Wildcats to celebrate under one roof. Chuck Everson, who played on the 1985 Villanova team, and fellow '85 Wildcats Brian Harrington and Harold Pressley saw Massimino this week in hospice to tell their coach they loved him.

"The last thing he said to me was, 'I love you,'" Everson said. "That's a rarity with a coach and a player relationship. That doesn't happen. He taught us that it was OK to be that way, to show your feelings like that. It was OK to do all that stuff."

Massimino is survived by his wife, five children and 17 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

"He's going to live in all the players he coached, all the coaches that coached with him," Wright said. "We are all products of him."

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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