Mike Looks Back: Villanova Then and Now

Prior to my NBA debut with Hubie Brown and the Hawks, I coached under Rollie Massimino at Villanova University from 1975-78. That was a period when Villanova turned it around and it was an exciting time in my career. We had some outstanding recruiting classes, which included the talented guard Rory Sparrow whom I would again coach at the NBA level in both Atlanta and New York. During my third season with the Wildcats we wound up the number one team in the Eastern Eight Conference. That year we made it to the NCAA Elite Eight after squeaking past Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 round with a 61-60 victory, thanks in large part to Sparrow’s contributions on the court. Eventually we lost to the NCAA Tournament runners-up, the Duke Blue Devils, but we had a terrific run.

I have a lot of great memories from that chapter in my basketball career. And because of my rich experience and my relationships with coaches Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright, I’ve maintained ties to the program ever since. I remember the night Villanova upset heavily favored Georgetown to win the National Championship in 1985. I was a young head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. We were playing the Detroit Pistons at Joe Louis Arena that night. I found a cab driver before the game and paid him on the condition that he be waiting for me outside the arena when our game ended. As soon as we got finished with the press conference I raced back to the hotel to watch the game. The Wildcats were seeded eighth in their bracket and wound up defeating the No. 1 seeded Hoyas 66-64. What a night for Rollie – it was magical.

Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesCoach Wright, who is in his ninth year as head coach, has developed the Wildcats into a top 25 fixture. Prior to joining Villanova, he was a successful head coach at Hofstra University and an assistant to Rollie at both Villanova and UNLV. While Villanova has had success in the past, most notably in 1985 when they captured the NCAA title, the basketball program is enjoying arguably its most prolonged period of success in its 81-year history. Last year, Villanova made its first Final Four appearance since the 1985 season when they lost to eventual National Champion North Carolina.

Coach Wright is a homegrown guy and follows in the footsteps of many other successful Big 5 coaches whose roots started in the Philadelphia area. He has shown a tremendous flair for recruiting, no doubt a result of his natural charisma and energy. Villanova now has a national recruiting pool from which to choose and looks poised to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament for years to come.

Wright’s teams are characterized by strong, tough guard play and an overall feistiness that allows them to compete effectively with bigger teams. The current team is no exception and is led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who hopes to bring his tremendous career at Villanova to an end with another deep tourney push. Villanova is also well-represented in the NBA right now with recent grads Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Dante Cunningham all contributing to their respective teams.

Villanova (2) will face St. Mary’s (10) in the second round of the 72nd Annual NCAA Championships this afternoon at 1:05 PM ET.

Fratello Telestrator: Joe Johnson’s Buzzer Beater

With the playoffs in sight, last night’s matchup between Southeast Division rivals Hawks and Bobcats was a fight to the dramatic finish. Charlotte’s new majority owner Michael Jordan had a front row seat to the action. Unfortunately for his visiting squad, Joe Johnson returned to Atlanta’s lineup after missing two games and knocked down a MJ-esque, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to nab a 93-92 victory for the Hawks in overtime.

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Gameday Dish: The Southeast Heats Up

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s almost Game Time and I’ll be joining Rick Kamla and Steve Smith in the NBA TV studio in Atlanta tonight to follow the action throughout the league.

Just down the way at the Philips Arena, the Hawks will play host to the Charlotte Bobcats. Both teams in the competitive Southeast Division are 7-3 in their last ten games and furiously jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The Bobcats will be without key contributor Gerald Wallace and the Hawks may have to go without their leader, Joe Johnson, who is listed as day-to-day.

As it stands right now, Atlanta is tied with Boston for third place in the East and Charlotte is one game ahead of Miami for sixth place in the Conference standings.

The third seed is very important, in that it allows the team which claims it to avoid Cleveland and LeBron until the Conference Finals. Also, Charlotte understands that every game from here out is of major significance because the team is tightly bunched within one and a half games of the fifth through eighth seeds in the East.

On paper, it seems that the Bobcats will have a tough time tonight in Atlanta. The Hawks have a 26-7 mark at home, while the Charlotte squad is 10-24 on the road this year. However, with the now Jordan-owned Bobcats making a strong push to land their first appearance in the NBA playoffs, look for Charlotte, coming off a big win over OKC, to give the Hawks a tough test tonight in Atlanta.

Czar Trivia

When I was a kid I loved to collect baseball cards and I still enjoy collecting, especially the satisfaction of completing a series.

Soon after the U.S. Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program was launched in 1999, I decided to start collecting them. I was years into my pursuit before someone informed me that I must obtain both the Philadelphia and Denver Mint issues of each state in order for my coin collection to be complete.

After many more years of pocketing and examining all my change, I’ve nearly succeeded in reaching by goal. But I still haven’t been able to bank every state/mint.

Which State Quarters do you think are the hardest ones to come by?

From the Booth: Ask The Announcers

Throughout the season fans can submit questions they have for me and my fellow YES Network Announcers Marv Albert, Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel. Some of these questions will get answered live on air during upcoming New Jersey Nets televised games. If your question is selected, you will be the lucky recipient of a very special, one of a kind Ask The Announcers t-shirt.

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Here’s a clip that shows an example of the types of questions we like to get:

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I’ll be in New Jersey this Saturday, March 20th for the Nets-Raptors matchup at 7:30 PM ET. If you have a question for our broadcast team you can submit it here.