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Massimino weaves tight-knit feelings into Villanova basketball

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 15, 1985

Villanova, Pa.

Rollie Massimino says his approach to coaching basketball has remained the same for three decades. The only difference is that his Villanova University Wildcats are going to launch the 1985-86 season as defending national champions, thanks to last spring's dramatic upset victory over Georgetown. The three seniors who formed the nucleus of that team have graduated, but the relationship that bonded coach to player continues, just as it does with most all of Rollie's former pupils.

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Speaking of how he perceives his job, the roundish coach says, ``This is not a four-year commitment; it's a 40-year commitment. At least that's how I analyze it. Being a head coach is an ever-going process of making sure everyone is settled.''

In some cases this commitment to players may mean opening doors to a life after basketball. Other times it may call for him to pave the way to a pro career in the game, as it did with two of last season's senior starters -- Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain. Rollie personally interviewed the dozen agents interested in representing Pinckney and McClain, who were first- and second-round National Basketball Association draft choices respectively.

He likes to keep the communication lines open with all his players, past and present. The current ones constantly funnel into his office in the aging Villanova Field House, where his quarters are jammed with the bric-a-brac of a career coach -- team pictures, plaques, trophies, lettered basketballs, and other assorted memorabilia.

The welcome mat is always out for former players, too, even those from many years earlier. In fact, after a testimonial dinner last spring, Massimino invited all his former high school prot'eg'es to a cookout at his place.

The togetherness that Massimino builds into his basketball program is one of the hallmarks of this accomplished motivator.

``We've always had great chemistry on our teams and sometimes that gives us an edge when we're playing,'' says assistant coach Marty Marbach.

This chemistry, of course, doesn't just happen. Rollie and his staff work hard to make sure the right people fill Villanova's blue and white uniforms. ``The big thing is I don't want unhappy people,'' he says.

To prevent that from happening, current varsity members get involved in recruiting incoming players.

Rollie is also a great believer in reserving several spots on the team for ``walk-ons,'' rather than having more scholarship players than he can comfortably utilize.

He wants people playing and contributing, even the reserves, rather than stewing on the bench. Everyone has his role, and everyone is expected to work hard to perform it. ``You don't become good playing make believe,'' says the coach, who sits with the motto ``Disposition to Dominate'' on the office wall behind him.

To play at Villanova you pay a price, and this reputation, he feels, has kept the prima donnas away. The hard-working, team-oriented types are what he wants and gets, and there's no finer example of that than his own son, R.C. A senior, he is one of the top engineering students in his class and a very determined athlete. ``Every day on our vacation he would do 600 sit-ups, 400 push-ups, 300 jumping jacks, and run 8 miles -- and he's a substitute,'' says `Daddy Mass' proudly. ``He wants to have the o pportunity to play. He's great.''

Rollie admires self-starters, but whenever he finds a player who needs a push, especially academically, he doesn't hesitate to provide it, which helps explain why his seniors bat 1.000 at graduation time.

He's as much counselor as gruff headmaster, though, and his ability to get through to his players helps explain his success. Several weeks before the NCAA tournament he awoke one night convinced that he had to have a heart-to-heart talk with sophomore guard Harold Jensen.

Jensen hadn't been playing well, and Massimino sensed that he needed some assurance. ``Harold is a wonderful young man, but he was nervous, like a pent-up rooster, and we had to talk it out.''

The talk worked, and the rest, as they say, is history. Jensen came on to become the team's supersub, and in the electrifying championship game came off the bench to hit all five of his shots, including a late basket that helped tie a ribbon on the team's incredible 78.6 percent field goal accuracy in a tense 66-64 victory. The Wildcats needed near-perfect execution of their controlled-tempo game plan to beat what Massimino has called ``maybe the greatest college basketball team ever assembled,'' and t hey got it.