Jensen's drive was a bold move by a player who had struggled all year with his psyche. After a late-season loss to Boston College he was so upset that he hyperventilated in the postgame locker room and needed treatment from the Villanova medical staff. "A very, very intense guy," says Plansky. "Very hard on himself. We called him Norman Bates because he had this snappability; he could just go nuts."
Massimino nurtured Jensen all season, quietly massaging his ego in long, fatherly chats. "We spent a lot of time crying together," says Jensen. "At that time in my life I was putting incredible pressure on myself. Coach Mass helped me through it. I was a difficult kid, and he was incredible."
Villanova reached the regional final and played North Carolina on a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham. Massimino's teams had gone this far three times previously but had never made it to the Final Four. At halftime Villanova trailed 22-17. Massimino pulled a chair into the center of the room. "I don't need this," he shouted. "You know what I'd like right now? A big bowl of spags, with clam sauce." He was laughing madly as he said it, spreading his hands as if to illustrate a massive vat of pasta. The players started softly chuckling, until the tension was sucked out of the room. Then Massimino took a deep breath. "Hey, guys," he said. "Just go out and play."
As Massimino left the locker room, the Reverend John Stack, a Catholic priest and Villanova dean of students, who was in the locker room, grabbed Massimino's arm. "Best [expletive] halftime speech I've ever heard," Stack said. Villanova blitzed North Carolina in the second half and won 56-44. The Wildcats began celebrating on the floor with a minute to play when Tar Heels coach Dean Smith chose not to challenge the ball (for which Massimino is eternally grateful). There were tears and hugs all around, and kisses on the bare noggin of 74-year-old trainer Jake Nevin, who, suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, was confined to a wheelchair and had become the team's emotional touchstone.
"I've never felt closer to a bunch of people in my life," recalls Jensen. Massimino had his wish. They were a family. And they were going to the Final Four.
III. HOYA PARANOIA
In the early and mid-'80s Georgetown was portrayed as the Evil Empire of college basketball. John Thompson, a 6'10", 300-pound former backup center to Bill Russell, took over the Hoyas' program in 1972 and transformed a midsized Catholic university with a respected, albeit ancient, basketball tradition into a national powerhouse. By the time the 7-foot 240-pound Ewing arrived for the '81-82 season, Georgetown had reached the NCAA tournament five times in seven years, but it was with Ewing that the bar was raised. The Hoyas played for the national title three times in his four years and won the school's only national championship, in 1984. While the glowering Thompson coached with a white towel draped over his shoulder, his Hoyas played hard, fouled hard and didn't talk much about it afterward.
The Hoyas were a target as broad as Thompson's torso, and the media took endless shots: Georgetown's image was summed up as "Hoya Paranoia"—a phrase popularized by The Washington Post's Mark Asher in 1980 and intended only to describe the insecurity of longtime fans who felt their team was slighted by the media in favor of Maryland. "It came to mean something quite different," says Asher.
The players themselves found this coverage hilarious. "That whole era, we had a ton of fun as a team," says Michael Jackson, a junior point guard on the '85 team. "Of course people outside the program believed, with Hoya Paranoia and all that s—, that we were a bunch of thugs. We just listened and laughed. That image sold papers and made people watch us on television."
Reality lay somewhere between the media myth and the team's sweet memory. Martin, the '85 power forward who played for four years alongside Ewing, says, "We had a black coach and [most years] an all-black team. We were physical, and we were aggressive. We knew we intimidated people, and we milked that, and John was the leader, along with Patrick. I remember once early in my junior year, John said to me, 'Son, I think you've been homogenized. If you don't know what that means, look it up, and then we'll talk about it.' Well, it means to purify, which I took to mean make whiter. He was telling me that I was playing soft, and I took serious offense at that. Sometimes the things he said to people got pretty personal."