Prosser’s Passing: So Sudden, So Shocking, So Very Sad

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Tom Suiter
Today was just like any other Thursday until I walked into our office. I felt right away that something was not right -- and it wasn’t. Something was awfully wrong.

The news that Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser had died hit me like a punch in the stomach. I found it hard to believe then, and after reporting it all afternoon I still find it hard to believe. It’s just not right.

Prosser was so well-respected and liked. His last two years were a struggle, but he had things back on track. He had one of the nation’s best recruiting classes lined up for 2008-2009. But who knows what we have in store for us each day when we wake up.

Skip Prosser went out for a jog like he had done so many times before, came back to his office and collapsed. This dynamic, 56-year-old head coach who seemed in good health, the head coach at a major university with much good in front of him, is tragically gone.

In January 2005, WRAL was preparing to do an ACC basketball special. We sent Jay Hardy to Winston-Salem to cover Wake Forest. He came back raving about Coach Prosser and his cooperation. Most college coaches would just as soon give up their shoe contract as let a television station photograph their practices, and Jay was prepared to be rejected. But he asked anyway. Prosser never hesitated.

“You want to shoot some practice?” he asked Jay.” No problem. Do anything you need to do. We’re glad to have you.”

Jay related to me later that he was right up in Prosser’s face with the camera, and all he did was smile and crack jokes. And we got video to which we usually never have access.

Later that season, Prosser agreed to appear live on our Final Four special from St. Louis. I will tell you, it’s not easy to get a big-time coach to appear live on a local station after 6 o’clock. We get a lot of polite no’s and, “How about doing it on tape?”

But Prosser never hesitated. Jeff Gravley still talks about how the coach climbed the steps in the freezing cold to our perch on high, his teeth chattering but happy to help us. Those are things that you remember.

Without question, Prosser was one of those coaches whose colleagues liked and respected him. You don’t always find that to be true in a cut-throat business, and the shock of his death within his profession is magnified 100 times because of it.

It was this week that college coaches were recruiting first in Las Vegas and then in Orlando. They saw Skip Prosser, talked with him and joked with him, never dreaming this would be their last time.

Former N.C. State coach Herb Sendek is now at Arizona State, but he had many an ACC battle with Prosser -- and he left those battles with so much respect.

“Skip was a gentleman and someone who represented what was good about our profession,” Sendek said. “He was the kind of person you wanted your son to play for.”

“This is shocking. We lost one of the best coaches and people in our sport,” said Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “He was ultimately respected for his coaching ability, his quick humor and most importantly for being a quality person.”

Added Carolina’s Roy Williams, “Today the world has lost not just an outstanding basketball coach, but a great person and a great friend. “I’ll always remember him calling after our 2006 season to say what a great job we had done after losing all the players from the championship team. That call meant so much to have come from another coach.”

“I was sitting with him yesterday in Orlando,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt. “He was just a great person. It’s so sad.”

David West, a Garner native, played for Prosser at Xavier. West wasn’t that highly recruited coming of out of Hargrave Military Academy, but Prosser saw something in the young man who now plays for the New Orleans Hornets. West will never forget it.

“Coach Prosser gave me a chance at Xavier when I came out of high school” a saddened West said Thursday. “He saw what other coaches didn’t, and I will forever owe him. He never let me slack off and taught me to look at the big picture, to do the little things to improve every aspect of your life. He was a great coach, leader and friend to me and will be deeply missed.”

ACC Commissioner John Swofford called Prosser a great friend who always had a ready smile. “He was truly a teacher, never forgetting the fact that he rose out of the high school ranks to become one of college basketball’s best coaches and leaders. He represented all that is good in college sports, and his loss is a deep one.”

Thursday night, an emotional Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman spoke to the media. “Skip was a friend, a mentor,” said Wellman, choking back tears. “He was a man of tremendous values, and he lived those values.”

Life is hard, and many a good life ends way too soon. We all know this and, in some way, have all experienced it or will experience it. It always hurts.

In the end, it all comes down to how a person led his or her life, how he or she treated others. Life is about accomplishment, but it’s also about respect and relationships, love and kindness. How someone lives is how we remember them.

Skip Prosser would be very proud of how he’s remembered.

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