Rollie Massimino, 82, Dies; Rode Dark Horse Villanova to Basketball Glory

By the time the team slipped past Memphis State in the national semifinals at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., Villanova had the look of a Cinderella team. But its Big East Conference rival Georgetown and Patrick Ewing, the team’s all-American center, loomed in the title game, and few people gave Villanova much of a chance against the Hoyas, who arrived for the showdown with a gaudy 35-2 record and a national title already under their belt.

Massimino was known for his ability to confuse opponents with zone defenses, but it was a painstakingly deliberate and efficient Villanova offense that was the difference in its 66-64 victory over Georgetown. The Wildcats made 22 of 29 shots that night, or 78.6 percent, including 9 of 10 in the second half.

“As close to the perfect game as any team has ever played, ever,” P. J. Carlesimo, who coached Seton Hall, another Big East team, told Sports Illustrated in 2015.

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Massimino as head basketball coach at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2015.

Credit
Angel Valentin for The New York Times

Massimino remained at Villanova for seven more years, though he had almost left to accept the head-coaching job with the New Jersey Nets. When he did leave, his relationship with Villanova cooled, and two subsequent unsuccessful seasons at Nevada-Las Vegas ended with the revelation that his contract agreement had violated state guidelines.

His next job took him to Cleveland State, where he had only mild success during a seven-year run that was blemished by player disobedience and institutional dysfunction.

In basketball circles, it is believed that Massimino, while a finalist this year for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, had been denied entry because of his post-Villanova years, a stretch in which he never returned to the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Moreover, in March 1987, the Villanova championship was marred by a Sports Illustrated cover article in which Gary McLain, the point guard on the title team, revealed that he had been high on cocaine during much of that 1985 tournament run. He said he had long used cocaine and marijuana and implied that his coach and university knew, a suggestion that Massimino always denied.

Roland Vincent Massimino was born on Nov. 13, 1934, in Hillside, N.J., the son of Salvatore and Grace Massimino. His father, an Italian…

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