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CLEVELAND STATE BRINGS 'ROLLIE SHOW' TO BONAVENTURE

Look closely at the visiting sideline tonight at the Reilly Center. Expect a good show for your money.

Rollie Massimino may be out of the national spotlight, but he's still into the games. That's the best way to describe the career turn of the Cleveland State coach, who leads his Vikings into Olean for a nonconference game against St. Bonaventure (7:30, Radio 1300, 95.7 FM).

It's been nearly 15 years since Massimino turned the sports world on its ear by masterminding Villanova's epic upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game. But the Wildcats got past the second round just one other time after that, and Massimino was gone in 1992 following a 14-15 season.

He then spent two difficult years at UNLV. It was a bad combination, the Eastern guy who never fit in among the bright lights and pro-Jerry Tarkanian factions in Las Vegas despite a 36-21 record.

In 1994, it appeared he was washed up and he spent two years out of the game. Still, Massimino had the coaching bug after his UNLV experience and didn't feel his career was over.

"I knew I would go somewhere and I didn't care where," Massimino said this week by phone from Cleveland. "You can play golf only so many hours in a day. I wanted to be around the young kids again and Cleveland State afforded me that opportunity. It has been really good, a lot better than even I thought."

Massimino is in his fourth year at Cleveland State, which is 5-6 this year. He went 9-19, 12-15 and 14-14 in his first three seasons.

He admitted he was only planning on staying for about two years and then perhaps giving over the job to one of his coaching proteges. Current assistants Mitch Buonaguro and Frank Dobbs were head men at Fairfield and Brown, respectively. Dobbs and assistant Paul Molinari played at Villanova.

Instead, his original contract signed in 1996 was reworked over the summer to include a four-year deal with a one-year rollover that will take him through at least 2004.

Cleveland State has been in a dry spell since its 'Magic Carpet Ride" season of 1985-86 that ended with a one-point loss to David Robinson-led Navy in the NCAA Sweet 16. The Vikings were second-round NIT losers the next two years but haven't been to postseason since.

Last year's .500 season snapped a string of five straight losing campaigns but Massimino has relied heavily on transfers and junior college players and has gone back to his Philadelphia roots to build a program that could contend in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.

"It's really been a very quick three-plus years," he said. "That's a good sign that I'm enjoying it."

Massimino is known as one of the game's great story tellers. His current players get an earful of anecdotes from a 25-year head coaching career in Division I that has produced 419 wins.

"Every day I tell these kids two, three crazy stories -- about everything and anything," Massimino said. "It (the championship) comes up and they love hearing it. When we were working on out-of-bounds plays at our shootaround Monday, I told them about when I was an assistant at Penn (under Chuck Daly) and we're playing Temple in the Palestra.

"A kid got the ball and dribbled it right on the court because he forgot to pass it in. In front of a full house at the Palestra. The place went nuts then. Our guys went nuts Monday. That's what I love." Cleveland State was 1-5 before a four-game winning streak that included a 75-60 win Dec. 18 over Dayton, which came into the game 8-0. The streak was snapped Monday night by Temple, 79-66.

Senior guard Damon Stringer, a transfer from Ohio State who was a third-team All-Big Ten player in 1996-97, leads Cleveland State in scoring at 16.6 points. Sophomore guard Sonny Johnson is at 13.2 and five others average at least 6.7.

Junior Kevin Ross, a 6-foot-8 Turner/Carroll graduate who transferred from Monroe Community College in Rochester, averages 6.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.

"They're very athletic and we know that by the way they beat Dayton pretty handily," said Bona coach Jim Baron.

The Bonnies (6-2) figure to get a boost to their depth tonight with the return of sophomore guard J.R. Bremer. He's been out since suffering a broken bone in his foot the first week of practice. Bremer, a Cleveland native, averaged 9.3 points and 3.5 rebounds last year.

Center Caswell Cyrus (sprained arch) and forward Peter Van Paassen (back) continued to be dogged by injuries suffered in practice this month but are expected to play.

Cyrus was fitted with an orthotic insole for his sneakers Wednesday after spending a couple of days in a cast.

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