Posted by Steve Bzomowski on August 2, 2007
photo: The Baltimore Sun
Don’t know how many of you follow college basketball closely enough to know who Skip Prosser was or if you then noticed the very sad news that he passed away of an apparent heart attack on the Wake Forest campus a week or so ago. He was eulogized there at Wake Forest in a ceremony last week and then, again, more recently, where he began his head coaching career at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
College basketball coaches get to know a lot of other people in basketball: head coaches, assistants, ADs, players, former players, parents and friends from your own school and opponent’s schools. You meet when you’re out recruiting (weeks and weeks of that over the course of a year, a huge chunk coming in the summertime), scouting, before and after games, at the Final Four (which doubles as the coaches’ convention). Not having been a player of any repute, I got to know who I got to know mostly when I started coaching at Harvard. I was there seven years so shook a lot of hands, compared many notes on sidelines and in the stands at recruiting venues, drank a few beers with guys, bullshitted the hours away. Because I was new to the college ranks those first few years and, as I said, wasn’t a “name” guy, it was easy for other coaches, especially at “big-time” schools to, you know, blow me and other rookies off. As the years went by and as I got a little more established, coinciding, I suppose with my elevation to the top assistantship at Harvard and after having made some noise with a recruiting coup or two, it was a bit more comfortable to hang with the big boys. Still, as in anyone’s walk through life, certain people stood out, just for the simple fact that they made an effort to make you comfortable, made you feel like you belonged, that they were just like you and you them. That they were nothing special or, perhaps, that you were every bit as worthy. Skip Prosser went out of his way to help me find my comfortable place in the world of college basketball.
Nothing special really, but when so many others wouldn’t do this, you notice and you remember and you really appreciate it. After leaving Harvard, some DI schools paid me to do advance scouting for them. One such school, the University of San Francisco got in touch with me to go to a UMass game against Xavier. USF was playing UMass in a few weeks, wanted to get the scoop on plays, calls, tendencies. This was when John Calipari was coaching UMass and they had Marcus Camby, etc. Skip Prosser was an assistant at Xavier then and they were in the midst of a six year run to the NCAAs. Big-time. I knew his boss, Pete Gillen (Fordham/Notre Dame/Harvard connection), but barely and through mutual friends only. Nonetheless, I went up to Skip after the Xavier/UMass game in Amherst, introduced myself, told him that I was there to watch and scout UMass. He offered, and this was unheard of, to send me his scouting report from before their UMass game, as well as his follow-up report. Follow-up report! Generous and good, good-as-in it was the best and most comprehensive and eye opening thing I had ever read on a game of basketball. It changed my view of not only that game but all basketball games henceforth. It was very cool of him to do that, and he barely knew me. (Maybe the fact that they beat UMass made it easier!)
Later that year, as a guest of head coach Pete Gillen, I spent 3-4 days at Xavier watching their practices and going to a Xavier/Evansville (bitter rivals) game at the old Cincinnati Gardens. (The Musketeers won.) After one of the practices, a late afternoon affair, knowing that I was in town, alone, Skip asked me if I wanted to meet him out later for some dinner. Again, very cool and kind. I mean, why bother with the former assistant from Harvard? It was no surprise that when we went to a bar for a couple of beers later, everyone knew Skip and he had nothing but good words for everyone. Skip was the Good Prince of that town.
When you meet people like that, especially in a cutthroat world like college basketball, you hope that others take notice and try to become a little like that themselves. And when someone like that passes away, and the stories that are told about them are heard, again, you wish that it all somehow sinks in, that the kindness and openness, easy laugh and genuine smile, that robust, unmistakeable generosity of spirit is something that sinks way in, just stays with us. All those players and coaches, all those people who met Skip Prosser, myself included, are very, very lucky to have known him. And the good news is, a guy like that never really goes away.