My interview with former Villanova great Ed Pinckney

Villanova's Ed Pinckney

I enrolled in Villanova University as a freshman in the fall of 1996. However, I made my decision to enroll in Villanova over a decade before that.

I was 7 years old in April of 1985 when Villanova shocked everyone in the world except themselves and beat Georgetown 66-64 to win the NCAA National Basketball Championship. I  can recall watching that game with my dad and grandfather.  I remember a bunch of yelling and screaming in my house and I remember the excitement of Villanova winning.  I was hooked on Villanova basketball. The next day after the game my family and I left for Florida on vacation. I told my father on the car ride to the airport that I was going to Villanova for college. Thereafter, I never once waivered on that decision.

There are many people like myself who were touched by the 1985 Villanova basketball team in one way or another. That team will forever be memorialized as perhaps the greatest Cinderella team of all time. Villanova’s Ed Pinckney was named the 1985 NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player. I caught up with Ed this week to ask him, amongst other things, about Villanova’s 1985 national championship run.


Q: The 1985 NCAA National Championship Game is often cited the greatest upset in college basketball history. Not only was Villanova the lowest-seeded team to ever win the NCAA tournament but Villanova beat one of the most dominant teams in that era in Georgetown with one of the most dominant college basketball players of all time in Patrick Ewing. All that said, was it really that big of an upset?

A: It was definitely probably the greatest thing that each of us on that team ever accomplished in our lives in terms of basketball. However, we all really look at it as we were just part of a special year with a special group of guys. We talk about this all the time. That whole season was just special not just the championship game.

Q:  Besides the 1985 NCAA National Championship Game, tell me something about Villanova’s 1985 team that most people don’t know or don’t ever talk about.

A:  There is one particular game that by far stands out to me more than any other game that year. It was the last game of the regular season against Pittsburgh on their home court.  The game was on National TV which was a big deal back then. Everyone including ourselves thought that we were on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament. We felt that we had to win the game to solidify a bid to the NCAA tournament. We were not sure if we were going to make it without beating Pitt. We were down at halftime and coach Massimino came to us and said, “I’m going to give everyone on this team 5 mins to play in the beginning of the 2nd half. If you don’t play well in your 5 mins, I am going to sit you the rest of the game. If you don’t win this game you are going to the NIT.” You have to remember, 1985 was the first year that the NCAA tournament expanded from 48 to 64 teams so no one was really sure what it would take to make the field of 64 and we were worried that a loss Pitt would weigh heavily on the selection process since it would be one of the last things that the selection group could consider. We wound up losing the game by 23 points. We of course made the tournament as a #8 seed however the reality is that we felt that we were lucky to even get in.  

Q: Do you still talk to the guys on the 1985 team?

A: Yes, we all  talk a ton and we all see each other from time to time as well. But it is not just the guys from the 1985 Villanova team that I talk to. I talk to a ton of Villanova guys. I talked to Kerry Kittles this morning. I obviously still talk to Malik Allen. I talk to the guys that I coached, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi and Curtis Sumpter. I talk to Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham and a bunch of others. Villanova really is a big family in that respect.

Q:  Do you think that Villanova can win the national championship again anytime soon (next 5 years)?

A:  Yes, I do. Going into the 1985 season we never really thought about winning the national championship. The 1985 team was not even the best Villanova team that I played on. The best Villanova team that I played on was the 1983 team. In fact, the 1983 team was the best team that I ever played on at any level including the pros. We had John Pinone who was awesome. We had Stewart Granger, myself, Gary [McLain], Dwayne [McClain] and Chuck Everson. We had fantastic leadership. But we were not able to win it all. We wound up in a bracket with Houston who had Akeem Olajuwon and we lost to Houston in the Regional Finals. Houston went on to lose to NC State in the finals. That just goes to show you how hard it is to win a national championship. In order to win it all, everything really needs to fall into place. You need the right seed in the right bracket and you need to be healthy. With the type of players that Jay brings in every year, Villanova has as good a chance as any team in the country to win it all. 

Q: You coached some really good Villanova teams while serving as an assistant from 2003-2007 under head coach Jay Wright. There were some big time college players on those teams like Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Allan Ray to name a few. Its easy to say that the 2008-09 Villanova team that made it to the final 4 was the best Villanova team in recent memory because they made it the farthest. However, in my opinion, the 2005-06 Villanova team that you coached which lost to Florida in the final 8 was the best Villanova team in the last 20 years. How do you feel about that?

A: I look at it this way. The 2006 team paved the way for the 2009 team to make it to the final four. The 2006 team had tremendous leaders. Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Fraser, etc. Those guys were great leaders. That team led the way for the 2009 team to get to the final four and that is what typically happens. It happened with us with the 1983 team leading the way for the 1985 team. Dwayne Anderson, Will Sheridan, Dante Cunningham, and Shane Clark all watched the 2006 team do what they did and they all became great leaders by watching great leaders. Go ask Randy Foye and Allan Ray how they feel about Tommy Grace who was a walk on. He was a Rhodes Scholar finalist and he was a true leader on the 2004 team. Tommy had a huge influence on Foye and Ray. In order to win, you need great leadership.

Q: What are some of the biggest ways that the college game has changed from 1985 to 2013?

A: One main way it changed is obviously the addition of the 3 point line. But the biggest change is that you would never ever see a player like Patrick Ewing or even Chris Mullin staying four years today. Those guys were seniors. You would never ever see those types of seniors anymore. The talent pool stayed longer which meant that overall there was simply more talent in college. That’s the biggest difference between college basketball from 1985 and today’s college game. There is also a difference with coaching. I actually think the coaching in today’s game is better because today’s coaches share much more information amongst themselves. There was no sharing of information back then. There is also more TV coverage now which gives coaches a better look at teams and more to prepare for. 

Q: What are some of the differences between coaching college players and coaching NBA players?

A: The main difference is the number of games that these guys play. Kentucky played 40 games in 2012 when they won the National Championship. In the NBA you play 82 games. If you make the playoffs you can play 90 or so. There is your difference right there. Also, the level of talent is much better of course as is the level of coaching. Look at the two coaches in the NBA finals right now, Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich. Those are two of the best coaches in the world.  






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