VILLANOVA, Pa. — Harold Pressley raised the 1985 national championship trophy over his head and Gary McLain looked dapper in sunglasses and a tux as they walked down the bleachers of the Villanova student section and onto the court.
Once all the former players gathered at half court and held their framed jerseys presented to them from this year’s team, they waited for the coach they called Daddy Mass.
Rollie Massimino, who turns 80 on Nov. 13, held wife Mary Jane’s hand and met his Wildcats for one more celebration. Massimino earned a standing ovation from the fans — and students not even born that April 1, 1985 night — who will always appreciate how Massimino and the Wildcats topped mighty Georgetown in “The Perfect Game.”
“This was so magical,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “And these guys are so beloved on this campus. It’s a really special group of people.”
Massimino and his former players hugged and posed for pictures.
Then it was time to coach.
Massimino returned to the Pavilion as a head coach for the first time since he coached the Wildcats in an NIT game against Virginia on March 18, 1992. Massimino was on the bench Tuesday night as the coach of NAIA powerhouse Northwood (Fla.).
He was as feisty as his days when Villanova ruled the Big East. He rarely took a seat, stomping and pacing down the court during the Wildcats’ 93-50 win.
Massimino and the ’85 Wildcats were scheduled for a private team dinner Monday night, but it turned into a 200-guest dinner party. All the players attended, swapping stories and reminiscing about the biggest underdog run in NCAA tournament history.
“Such a wonderful, wonderful experience to see my guys back and tell me what a bad guy I was during a period of time I yelled and screamed,” Massimino said, smiling.
A 50-foot mural inside the entrance to Villanova’s home court showcases the Wildcats’ greatest basketball glory.
There are pictures of Massimino, who led the school to its only national championship. There is the 1985 title team wildly celebrating in a parade, hoisting the trophy over their heads with crowds jamming the streets of downtown Philadelphia.
There’s even a photo of the team with President Ronald Reagan.
It’s been 30 years since Villanova won the national championship in one of the most shocking upsets in sports history. Wright led the 2009 team to the Final Four, and Villanova is ranked No. 12 in this year’s preseason poll for The Associated Press. But a championship is missing from his otherwise stellar resume.
Wright played college basketball at Bucknell and started as an assistant at Rochester and Drexel. He spent five seasons at Villanova as Massimino’s assistant, and then followed him to UNLV for another two years before taking the head coaching job at Hofstra in 1994.
“I learned how to run a basketball program and include your family,” Wright said. “We do everything basically the exact same way. We run our program just like he did. He’s bigger than life.”
VU students unrolled a banner that read: “Rollie’s Way is the Wright Way.”
This was no ordinary reunion. The game was nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.
Massimino, in his ninth season at Northwood, continues to coach even after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011.
“It’s OK, but we don’t really talk about that,” he said. “We hope to [coach] at least a couple more years. If not, we’ll go off into the sunset.”
Massimino still gathers the Seahawks for family dinners at his home and hopes some of that ’85 spirit rubs off on all of his teams.
“It’s the players themselves,” Massimino said. “I love the kids and we have a lot of fun. It’s all about the family. A lot has changed through the years, but that’s always been the model.”
Few experiences can top what those unheralded Wildcats felt in 1985.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats won games against Dayton, top-seeded Michigan, No. 5 Maryland, No. 2 North Carolina, and No. 2 Memphis State before defeating Georgetown 66-64 in the title game to become the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship.
They were moments impossible to forget — just don’t expect Massimino to slide in a DVD of the title game.
“I haven’t watched the game in its entirety,” he said. “I’m afraid we’re still going to lose.”