Villanova's Harry Perretta wins 600th

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Villanova coach Harry Perretta credits his Italian upbringing for his entertaining sideline antics.

He's constantly screaming and yelling directions to his team during games, waving his hands like an orchestra conductor. It's his 34th season at the Philadelphia school, and he hasn't changed much.

Yet that doesn't begin to describe Perretta, who became the 22nd Division I women's basketball coach to reach 600 victories when Villanova beat Iona 76-47 in the Gaels' Tip-off tournament Saturday.

"I go a little crazy once in a while," he said laughing. "I try to be who I am and don't try to pretend to be anything else. They understand the yelling. It's the way I was brought up, tough love."

During his tenure, which started in 1978 when he was 22, Villanova has had 14 seasons with 20 wins or more. The Wildcats have made eight NCAA tournament appearances and won the Big East regular-season title twice. They've also won the conference tournament three times -- including a shocking upset of Connecticut in 2003 that ended the Huskies' then-record 70-game winning streak.

"It's not the coach who wins 600 games," the 55-year-old Perretta said. "It's the players that have played in this program. Getting 600 wins is more a reflection on the players that have played here than the coach. I just happened to be here for all of them.

"Obviously that UConn game means a lot and when we made the Final Four in 1981. You always remember those type of games. But it's the other games. You can't get to 600 with just those wins. I can't remember every one, but I remember most of them."

His 600th victory came against Iona, which is coached by his good friend Tony Bozzella. The Gaels presented Perretta with a ball after the game and his team mobbed him as the crowd chanted, "Harry, Harry, Harry."

"Harry is everything that's right with women's basketball," Bozzella said. "How could I not honor him? I'd want my daughter to play for him."

Tournament MVP Rachel Roberts gave Perretta a big hug.

"Yeah, he does look and act like a lunatic at times," Villanova junior Laura Sweeney said with a smile. "But he wants people to do well and he really cares about his girls. He really cares about everyone. He pushes you to be your best."

It's not just the wins that make Perretta a special individual. Just looking down the bench, it's hard to miss Villanova manager Nick Gaynor. The two have had a special bond for years.

"You can't quantify what he's done for our family," said Michael Gaynor, whose son has cerebral palsy. "Harry's heart is bigger than our 250-plus acre campus on the main line."

Michael Gaynor and Perretta went to high school together and have been friends ever since. Gaynor, director of admissions at Villanova, took his son to women's games when he was little and Nick has been on the sidelines for the last 11 years, cheering on his beloved team. He officially became a team manager when he enrolled in the school two years ago.

Nick attends all of the home games, but it's difficult for him to go to on the road with the team. Three years ago, as a high school graduation present, Perretta took Nick on a road trip for the first time. Perretta and Michael Gaynor drove Nick from Philadelphia to Notre Dame and West Virginia. It was a special trip for the three of them and now has become an annual experience for the trio. This season they will make the trek to West Virginia and Marquette.

"I look forward to those trips," Perretta said. "It takes me away from the day-to-day grind of basketball. We have some of the most fun times in that car. It's not a burden, not even a hardship, I look forward to it."

Perretta also is well-respected by his fellow Big East coaches, who were proud of his achievement.

"Six hundred wins ... that's pretty significant," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "And Harry's has been doing this longer than I have. He's been a head coach longer than I have and he's managed to kind of stay the same. He hasn't changed much."

This past offseason Perretta stopped by Rutgers to work with coach C. Vivian Stringer and her staff, showing them his offensive concepts.

"Harry and I have known each other since our early 20s and he's the same guy, just a warm and caring human being," Stringer said. "I've always admired and respected his knowledge of the game. Our games against each other are one of the most difficult games we play all year because of the way he prepares and approaches the game. More importantly, he embodies what it means to be a true champion."

The Wildcats are on the road for the first four games of the season before finally hosting Delaware on Nov. 22. The school plans to honor Perretta's achievement before that game.