With the news today of the passing of Skip Prosser, Deacon Nation and the rest of the college basketball world is coming to terms with what many people have described as a loss of “one of the good guys” in the game. This hits us a little harder than most, as although we’ve tried to keep our biases and fanship quiet for the sake of the objectivity of this blog, we too are a Demon Deacon (class of 1995). Today we drop our professional facade and give the man his proper dues and respects.
We’ve been no stranger to criticism of Skip as a coach over the last few years, but make no mistake, we always believed in our heart that Coach Prosser was an excellent teacher, person and family man in addition to being an exceptional coach. Not once have we ever heard anyone within the college basketball community question the man’s passion, his ethics, or his character. And most of all, in only six short years at Wake Forest he had completely morphed into a true Deacon, a fan of not only his own players but of the entire university’s sports program and, most of all, the student body.
A friend of ours reminded us that Skip never lost sight of the fact that he always, first and foremost, considered himself the same high school history teacher that he was back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. To that end, he graduated every one of his players who stayed all four years at Wake Forest. Always the academic, he would often sprinkle quotes from Tennyson and Shakespeare into his discussions of team defense and free throw shooting. There was a certain eloquence in the way he spoke that reminded you that he had more than just basketball on his brain twenty-four hours a day.
Despite that fact, Skip’s passion for the game could never be questioned. As a fellow Deac, we could read the pain on his face over the last couple of mediocre seasons as he struggled to keep the program afloat. But as if by cruel fate, last week it seemed as if he had once again turned the corner – just as he had at Xavier, and just as he had at Wake when he arrived – by receiving commitments from three players who would arguably form the #1 recruiting class of 2008. A recent cnnsi.com article revealed that Prosser was extremely excited about his recent coup, and why wouldn’t he be? Life as a coach in the ACC is hard enough with top talent – considering his haul, the future for Skip’s program could only be described as bright.
We had the good fortune to spend some time as an alumnus back on the Wake campus during Skip’s first two seasons (2001-02 and 2002-03), and the infusion with which he energized the campus was palpable. The previous administration under Dave Odom had left a dispirited pall over what had just years before been a basketball-crazy campus, dating back to the 1990s glory years of Rodney Rogers, Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan. Upon arrival, Skip immediately unleashed Josh Howard onto the rest of the ACC, recruited Chris Paul and Eric Williams, and once again the Joel was rocking. Over the next four seasons under the helm of Prosser, Wake ascended to its first-ever #1 ranking and the Tie Dye Nation at the Joel became a nightmare for most opponents, earning its rightful place among the toughest venues to play in America.
But more importantly, Skip became the Campus Coach, often walking around meeting students, encouraging them to cheer throughout the games and generally making himself a fixture just as notorious as the magnolias on the quad or the noontime bells of Wait Chapel. As an indication of the campus hysteria, at one point the Screamin’ Demon basketball fan group numbered over 2000 kids, more than half of the student body – undoubtedly no other school in the nation can match that level of commitment. Skip engendered this relationship, as he would often email the student body the afternoon of a big game extolling them to “meet me on the quad at midnight,” representing the time-honored Deacon tradition of rolling the quad after a big victory. To that end, a grass-roots campaign has begun today to honor Skip with a quad-rolling tonight at midnight – and although we cannot be there in person, you can rest assured that the tall tree outside our building will turn white tonight.
Rest in Peace, Skip – you will always be a Deacon.