August 17, 2022

On this night, the Creighton Bluejays resembled one of those Villanova championship teams that never stopped believing.

On this night, it was the Creighton Bluejays who were playing the part of Cinderella.

On this night, the Creighton Bluejays didn’t care about the pro-Wildcats crowd at the Garden, didn’t care about Jay Wright’s vaunted Villanova culture.

On this night, Greg McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays were far more interested in leaving their own footprints.

And on Saturday night, when neither team could throw the ball in the ocean, Wright and Villanova refused to let the Creighton Bluejays have their One Shining Moment.

When it came to Winning Time, Wright and Villanova, the 54-48 victors of the Big East Tournament, had Collin Gillespie to drain a pair of 3s, and Creighton did not.

“At the end,” McDermott said, “we got Gillespied.”

Got Gillespied by the fearless epitome of Villanova Basketball, who last year, following knee surgery, was forced to helplessly watch as Georgetown won the Big East Tournament championship. This season, Gillespie was the first in conference history to win Big East Player of the Year, Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Most Outstanding Player.

“He’s as mentally tough as anybody we’ve had — we’ve had some great ones,” Wright said.

Jay Wright celebrates with Rollie Massimino after Villanova's win in 2016 National Championship.
Jay Wright celebrates with Rollie Massimino after Villanova’s win in 2016 National Championship.
Getty Images

Villanova has won four of the past five Big East Tournaments, and to the children of Rollie Massimino, and their families, Wright is more than the Hall of Fame coach who has built Villanova into a dynasty. He is the man who has devotedly carried on their father’s proud family tradition and legacy.

“This is how close Jay and my dad were,” Massimino’s oldest child, Tommy, said. “I don’t even know why, but he texted me about a month ago, because he knows that I remember all my dad’s quotes.”

The text read: “What was the quote your dad used about game played for high stakes, everyone is an expert?”

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And Tommy Massimino texted back: “Life is a game played by experts. If you want to win you have to be the master of the game.”

Tommy, 62, was once an assistant coach, along with Wright, for his father. He was not at the Garden on Saturday night. But his brothers, R.C., who was a reserve on Rollie’s 1985 NCAA championship team that shocked Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown, and Andrew, were in the house — along with four of R.C.’s five children and the brothers’ wives — to witness yet another glorious confetti blizzard.

“He’s been so great at including all of the old guys and carrying on the family tradition,” R.C. told The Post. “I mean, that was my father’s mantra, that was kind of what we were all about when I was there. I played for him from ’82 to ’86 and the family was what it was all about at Villanova. A lot of people say that, but we really lived it. My mother used to cook the pasta for the team and the coaches. And Jay’s kind of kept that tradition going where he really brings all the old guys back into the fold, and he encourages all the old guys to be part of it. Everybody loves him and we support him.”

Jay Wright gestures to Villanova fans while cutting down the net after winning the Big East Tournament title.
Jay Wright gestures to Villanova fans while cutting down the net after winning the Big East Tournament title.
AP

Ed Pinckney of The Bronx was a star on that 1985 Villanova team. He doesn’t appreciate Wright any less.

“He’s been a part of the program for a very very long time,” Pinckney told The Post. “And the one thing Rollie always wanted was for guys to give back to the program, have a connection to the program, and he embodies that tenfold.“

Tommy recalls working alongside the young Wright, before Wright followed his father to UNLV in 1992.

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“My dad was all about preparation,” he said. “I remember one time we played St. John’s not until like the 18th game of the year. I had to watch all 16 films to get ready for the game. Every person on the staff did that. So now we play ’em the 20th game, or the 21st game. If it’s Jay’s game, Jay watched every single other game that they played.”

And some things never change with Jay Wright.

“He always loved to dress, even way back then,” Tommy said. “My dad prided himself in his dressing even when he had his shirttail out and everything else.”

Villanova players celebrate after their win over Creighton in the Big East Tournament final.
Villanova players celebrate after their win over Creighton in the Big East Tournament final.
USA TODAY Sports

Rollie summoned the strength during his battle with lung cancer to fly in for Villanova’s 2016 NCAA Championship game in Houston the night Kris Jenkins hit that epic 25-footer at the buzzer. He was sitting behind the Villanova bench.

“Before the game there’s a funny clip where my dad was trying to get Jay’s attention,” Tommy said, “and Jay thought that he was gonna try to say something to him. And he said: ‘Fix your hanky.’ ”

“When my father passed away he must have had 150 handkerchiefs or pocket squares in shoeboxes in his closet,” R.C. said. “My father always had the alligator shoes and always wanted to look good, and Jay’s kinda perpetuated that and brought it to a whole ’nother level, right?”

Right.

“I think people always knew that [Wright] was gonna be a good coach and something special because he carries himself so well,” R.C. said. “He loved going to our house and listening to my father talk. He used to talk to my sisters and say how special it was to just be part of it. But you could always tell that Jay had a little bit something different about him. I think my father was always really proud of Jay and what Jay was able to accomplish.”

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“When [Wright] went to Hofstra and had so much success,” Tommy said, “one day everybody knew he could be the next coach at Villanova.”

Tommy is a consultant for ISI. R.C. and Andrew own a construction company. Following their father’s passing, all of the Massimino children — first-born Tommy, R.C., Andrew, Lee Ann Sleece and Michelle Coleman — were in San Antonio for the 2018 final at Wright’s invitation, when Wright won his second national title in three years.

“Jay always respected my father and always kind of fed off of him and learned from him and I think my father in the end really respected Jay just immensely,” R.C. said.

Gillespie, who scored all of his 17 points in the second half Saturday night, is the latest in a Main Line of irrepressible, high-I.Q. point guards. A dream player for a dream program.
“No. 1, the kids all believe in the system and what he’s trying to do,” Tommy said of Wright. “Like my dad, you can demand things from your players when they know that he loves you, and he always wants the best for you. And that’s, I think, one of the keys to any real successful coach.”

“He recruits good kids, he recruits kids that work hard, and he’s just a really good builder of players and character,” R.C. said. “He’s so good at motivating the kids and then making the kids understand what’s important and just getting ‘em to play together.”
Villanova will be a dangerous March Madness team, but what else is new?

“Think about what he’s done,” Tommy said. “Everybody in the country says Villanova has the best culture of any program in the nation. He’s made them a blue blood. They were never a blue blood before.”

A cold-blooded blue blood at that.