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Rollie’s Ride: A Push for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

A four-day, 264-mile campaign to honor the great Rollie Massimino.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Villanova vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

April 1, 1985—Jay Wright was still a young assistant at his first gig in Rochester, far from being a head coach. It was way before Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins were born, and a few decades before 2016 and the shot heard around the college basketball world.

At first glance, the newspapers the morning after might have looked like an April Fool's joke to some. To Villanova fans, it became a part of history and the program's lore--so well-known to those that bleed blue and white, like timeless childhood fairytales, except it was reality.

No. 8-seed Villanova Wildcats upset the top-seeded, Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas. Rollie Massimino inspired his team to a 'perfect' performance because shooting 78.6 percent on the floor was almost unheard of, let alone doing so to pull off the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history. That 1985 team withstood the test of time, as not a single 8-seed or lower has accomplished the same feat.

After that, Massimino went on to coach at UNLV, Cleveland State, and Northwood (Fla.)/Keiser University before he passed away on August 30, 2017.

Since his debut as a collegiate head coach at Stony Brook in 1969, Massimino amassed 816 victories, 11 regular season conference titles, five conference tourney titles, and of course--a Division I national championship. He was inducted to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

As for the granddaddy of them all, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Massimino has yet to be enshrined in it. He was named one of 14 finalists for 2017, but this past September--it was announced that he just fell short of the votes needed to get in.

He will be back on the ballot for next year, eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. Until then, a die-hard Villanova fan is looking to get that conversation going.

"It was pretty insulting, I was disappointed," said Ken Graves, about Massimino not getting into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. "When he passed away, a lot of people were writing that he should be in, but he's not going to be in if you just write an e-mail or a comment saying he should be in. So, I was looking for something different. I don't know how this happened, but we were just looking for something outside the box. I don't believe this is going to get him in there, but I'm just trying to renew the conversation."

Ken Graves and his daughter, Katie, have started a campaign called Rollie's Ride. Graves will be biking from Villanova's campus all the way to Springfield, Mass., where the Hall of Fame is located. With his trusty bicycle and miniature blue-and-white basketball that has "RM BHOF 2018" written on it, Graves will go approximately 264 miles, hoping to reignite the campaign for getting Massimino in the Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, back at his home in northern New Jersey, his daughter put together the website and created social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram to help with spreading the word, while documenting every leg of Graves' trip.

"We were--at first--going to walk there, but then we thought that was a little too far," Katie said. "We decided that biking would be a crazy idea, but it would be really creative and help spread the word really easily."

She originally wanted to join her father on the journey, but as a freshman in high school, she stayed behind. She's rooting for her dad from afar, along with the rest of her family.

Despite the fact that Graves never attended Villanova, you wouldn't have known that upon first impression.

His family owns as much gear and cheer for the 'Cats like any crazed Nationer. Graves, a West Virginia alumnus, grew up right next to Villanova. He attended the now closed St. Thomas of Villanova School, and was on Villanova's campus three-to-four times a week to hang out and watch the Wildcats' practices at the field house.

He got to see Massimino coach from up close, witnessing guys like John Pinone and Rory Sparrow bringing the magic onto the court. Sparrow, his favorite player growing up, would give him drills to do on the side before practices started. He also attended basketball camps coached by Rollie, even earning an award from the former 'Nova coach for his play during one week of the session--one of his prized moments. He worked as a "wombat" in the university's kitchen during his high school years and was a part of the 1985 championship celebrations on campus.

"I wouldn't go home after school and sit around," Graves said. "Literally lived there."

His love for the program followed him to West Virginia and in Bergen County, N.J., where he now resides. His children, Katie and Sean, have even caught on to the infectious fandom for Villanova and while his wife, Kristin, does not--a Penn State grad--she supports him in this campaign.

Graves is not a cyclist. He trained whenever he could for two months leading up to the trip. Although he envisioned having more time and preparation for this trip, Massimino's death and eventual snubbing from the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inspired him to accelerate the process and follow through the ride as quickly as he could. He set off on Thursday, Oct. 5 and expects the voyage to take four days.

Once he arrives at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, he will leave the miniature basketball there. Its message is simple, but doesn't even begin to encompass the impact Massimino had on the Villanova community.

"He's someone that's dynamic," Graves said. "One of those guys that walk into the room and you can feel they're in the room, and he'd make sure you knew he was in the room. Then when he started speaking, you were glad he was in the room."

The godfather of Villanova Basketball, Massimino was beloved by his players, staff, and the Villanova community. Although things had soured for a bit after he and Villanova went their separate ways, things would resume once Jay Wright helped patched things up again between both sides. Any leftover bitterness quickly subsided.

But people don't think about that. Fans don't think about that. Villanovans and college basketball fans will remember him for that one shining moment in 1985, and all the other ones in between.

They'll remember the passion he evoked from the bench, his bright personality that inspired many, and the emotion he wore on his sleeves.

The pasta-loving man who got to combine his two great loves for "spags" and basketball into a compelling Elite Eight halftime speech. How a desire for a big, steaming, heaping plate of spags--macaroni, linguini with the clam sauce--helped motivate a team to get to the Final Four and eventually win it all.

A man that loved preaching and coaching the X's and O's, as well as knowing the people behind them. It's the family-style mentality that we still see present in the program decades later. Like when he presented his then-young protege, Jay Wright, with a championship ring--only to get the favor returned in 2016.

He touched the lives of those around him, and even fans and people who didn't get to meet him. He was one of the main faces in the crowd during that 2016 run to a national title. There was anxiousness when it was uncertain that he would be attending the Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship games due to health reasons, but overwhelming joy from the crowd when he did indeed come with his bright smile.

His persona went beyond the X's and O's, statistical achievements, and the trophies in the case. He helped create this tradition of family that still resonates vibrantly to this day, within the program and the fanbase.

A patriarch, he helped build this culture and Villanova Basketball family. Now, the family he once led is carrying him on its back and pushing forward to immortalize him in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.