March Madness has begun, and there’s one person on campus who knows exactly what that excitement is like. Chris Masotti, vice dean for finance and administration at the School of Medicine, played for the Villanova Wildcats from 1987 to 1991 and played in the NCAA Tournament three of those four years.
In 1988, his team—a No. 6 seed in the Southeast region—made it all the way to the Elite Eight (also known as the regional finals) before falling to No. 1 seed Oklahoma. (Oklahoma went on to the final game, where they lost to Kansas.)
That year Villanova was known as a “Cinderella team,” advancing farther—and making even their Elite Eight game much closer—than anyone imagined.
“For the game to go to the Final Four, we had the No. 1 seed [Oklahoma] down at halftime,” Masotti remembered. “We tired out, but it was an exciting run and something I will never forget.”
Masotti played under head coach Rollie Massimino, who led the eighth-seeded Wildcats to a national championship just two years before Masotti joined the team. Massimino’s leadership helped Masotti strengthen his basketball game—and his social network. Masotti remembers regularly meeting his coach’s famous friends, such as Major League Baseball manager Tommy Lasorda, racecar driver Mario Andretti and singer Perry Como.
Masotti also got the chance to play against some of the National Basketball Association’s future stars, including Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Rick Fox and more. In fact, he often had to play like them.
“For several years on the team, one of my roles was to imitate the great guard players in practice. Looking back, it’s quite funny to imagine myself—all of 5 feet 11 inches—imitating future NBA stars,” he said. “We all have a role in life.”
His role also extended to the classroom, as Masotti helped keep the team’s grade point average up. “You might not believe this, but I was an All Star … a Big East Academic All Star,” Masotti joked.
Today, Masotti furthers his academic ventures at Case Western Reserve University, where he’s worked for 12 years. But today, his basketball opponents are significantly smaller: After rupturing both of his Achilles tendons, he now only hits the court with his children, ages 9, 6 and 2. Now that basketball is mostly off the table, he and his wife of 14 years enjoy growing a vegetable garden, skiing and playing tennis with their children.
What more is there to know about him? Find out in this week’s five questions.
1. What was the first album you ever purchased, and what was the medium (record, cassette, CD, etc.)?
Oh boy. Probably KC & the Sunshine band, or the Bee Gees. It was definitely a record.
2. What do you think should have won “Best Picture” at the Oscars—whether or not it was nominated?
Despicable Me—isn’t that the only movie out this year? It must be good because I have seen it so many times this year with my kids.
3. What moment at Case Western Reserve stands out as most memorable (so far)?
Observing our faculty at cystic fibrosis events and seeing the utmost appreciation and respect they receive from families. Our faculty members have drastically changed the lives of so many people in this field.
4. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Every once in a while, I do use the other side of my brain. I was a piano player, a trumpeter and a singer in my youth.
5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
What we do here every day. It is our mission to improve people’s lives, either in the research we do or the education we provide our students. Not many places have such a broad and noble cause.