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Mike Lopresti | | April 1, 2016

March Madness: Villanova elicits echoes of 1985 Final Four team

Road to the Final Four: Villanova Wildcats

HOUSTON – This was 31 years ago Friday to the day. A young basketball coach named Jay Wright was at the University of Rochester, and making extra money as the assistant director of intramurals. So it was his job that Monday night to set up the field hockey games.

One problem. Georgetown was playing Villanova in Lexington for the 1985 national title. “The guys who played floor hockey really didn't care about the national championship game,” Wright was saying Friday. “I went to the women's soccer coach's house -- I was single then, I was living in Rochester by myself -- I sat on his floor and watched that game.

“That was probably the most inspirational moment of my coaching career.”

Thirty-one years ago Friday, Villanova put an April Fool’s joke on Patrick Ewing and mighty Georgetown by hitting 78.6 percent and missing one shot the entire second half. It was a 66-64 upset that will stand for the ages.

Thirty-one years later, there are murals on the wall at Villanova, a trophy in the case, a banner hanging from the ceiling, and an aura still in the air. The national champions of 1985 are never far away.

“There’s a video montage outside of our locker room that displays their NCAA Tournament,” Ryan Arcidiacono said. “And it’s always running.”

To the average college student – and the average college basketball player – history is last week. Three decades? Might as well be talking about Aristotle. But not at Villanova. Not to these Final Four Wildcats.

“The 1985 team is a huge part every year of what Villanova basketball is,” Darryl Reynolds said. “Because you want to strive to be those guys this time of year.”

Same for Mikal Bridges.  “We play for the ones that came before us.”

To be sure, 1985 is long time ago. What can it mean to a 20-year-old? The coach wonders.

“The '85 team is around all the time. Coach (Rollie) Massimino is around all the time,” said Wright, who works very hard to keep all the past Wildcats in the family.

“It's a big part of Villanova, and me. I don't know how much these guys are affected by that. Our '09 team (also in the Final Four) is around, and I think our guys have a great respect for the '09 team. The '85 team to our guys is almost magical. It's almost a fairytale that I don't know if they identify with.”

  The Wildcats' last trip to the Final Four was in 2009.
He does, though.

Wright had gone to Lexington that year to attend the coaches’ convention, and his first Final Four. “It was overwhelming,” he said, “just to see all the big-time coaches.” But he had to return to Rochester Monday. Field hockey was calling. Still, he had to follow the game, even if it meant sitting on the floor of someone’s house.

“I had watched Villanova's basketball camps with Coach Massimino. He was my idol. To see a team make a dream come true like that, overachieve, it was magical. Watching that, you say as a coach, `I would love to be able to do it.’ Never thinking you would be able to do it at Villanova. But to coach and take a team to a championship against all odds, even if it's a league championship, it's something I always dreamed about.”

Even on the 31st anniversary. “I think about it every day,” he said Friday. “I talked to Coach Massimino 10 minutes ago.”

Perhaps it is not quite so vivid to some of his players.

This from Phil Booth: “That was way before me. I don’t know a lot about it. My parents talk a lot about how big a deal it was. We’ve seen little clips of it. I know how hot they were. We’ve seen all the stats.”

And from Josh Hart: “We’re focused on making our own path. That’s something that’s cool, but we’re focused on creating our own legacy.”

Hart said he has never watched a tape of the 1985 game, but he is a minority in the Villanova locker room.

“I know a decent amount of it, but I think I would know more than many of the guys on the team because I grew up watching Villanova,” Arcidiacono said. “But I think we all have a good idea what they did.”

Bridges has watched it. “Just to see how hard they played. Just seeing Patrick Ewing’s face after the game. That look on his face, he was done for.”

Same for Kris Jenkins. “They won the national championship and everybody wants to win the national championship. We’ve watched film on that team, those guys still come around. They’re definitely still relevant to us.”

Georgetown shot 54.7 percent that night, committed only 11 turnovers compared to Villanova’s 17  – and lost. Those Wildcats had to deal with Ewing and the Hoya defense, most intimidating in the nation. These Wildcats have to deal with Buddy Hield, whom nobody has been able to stop.

That Villanova team had lost twice to Georgetown during the season. This Villanova team was trounced by Oklahoma in December.

Sound like an echo? These Wildcats wouldn’t mind.

“It was the perfect game,” Reynolds said of 1985. “It’s funny, in our program we have four things that we really pride ourselves on. Defend, rebound, run, execute. That game was the perfect example of execution.  It’s everything this school is about. It’s tradition, it’s not forgetting where we came from.

“Those guys are still very much in the picture. We still see them all the time, so it’s doing it for them. It might sound a little cliché, but it really is the truth. Because we respected what they did, which allowed us to be what we are today.”

To think, his coach might have seen it in person. Blame field hockey.

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