COLUMN: Prosser Would Have Been Proud of Skip Prosser Classic
Jan. 3, 2013
By Rob Daniels, WakeForestSports.com
George Edward Prosser would have been neither indifferent nor dispassionate. While the thesaurus says those words can be used to describe mixed emotions, they don't work for a coach who took to defeat as Washington takes to compromise.
No, Skip would have vacillated. Dithered. Been caught betwixt and between.
The sight of his Wake Forest Demon Deacons' 66-59 win would have pleased him on Wednesday night. That it came at the expense of his Xavier Musketeers would have slightly mitigated the joy.
Regardless of the conflicts, Prosser would have been undeniably proud of a solid mutual effort held in his memory. And he probably would have thrown in a funny line with a cultural reference and a $20 word or two if asked about the 37 combined turnovers and/or the 26 missed free throws. Perhaps something like, "It failed to meet the standards commonly associated with top-level basketball."
The third installment in a 10-game series known as the Skip Prosser Classic drew a season-high crowd of nearly 10,000 to the Joel, and it added up to the Deacons' third straight win after a 4-5 start to the season.
"We're improving and we have young men who are doing a terrific job on and off the court in the traditional Wake Forest way," coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "We have a great foundation here. We have made tough decisions to build a foundation the right way. They're growing up. Every day."
In the aftermath of Prosser's shocking and tragic death at the age of 56 in the summer of 2007, the universities joined to establish the series, which alternates between campus sites. The pairing of inter-sectional opponents without the prime scheduling perks of guaranteed television is not easy. In 2012-13, the contest had to be set on a night when Wake Forest students were still on break and college football bowls were not.
Still, a crowd that filled Joel Coliseum's lower bowl enjoyed the Deacs' second-half run. After losing an 11-point lead and falling behind 49-48, they immediately responded with a 12-0 surge that restored momentum to their side.
The night began with a two-minute video tribute to Prosser's Deacon days, which ran from 2001-07 and featured five NCAA tournament appearances, a stint at No. 1 in the AP poll and the arrival of some of the most compelling players in a century of basketball at the University. But rather than highlights of Chris Paul's assists or Justin Gray's 3-pointers, the montage featured Prosser talking about some of his favorite things: Xavier, Wake Forest, basketball and language.
Skip was never boring. He once dropped references to the Dalai Lama (real-life religious guru), John McClane (movie cop) and Chip Hilton (fictional high school basketball hero) in a single press conference. He eschewed clichés even in defeat. Like, for example, the time at Virginia when J.R. Reynolds dropped 40 on the Deacons.
"(Sean) Singletary's a big shot-maker and so is (J.R.) Reynolds," he said. "It's sort of pick your poison. As has been our wont lately, it ended up being poison."
Or a reference to Duke players other than All-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.
"It's not like those other guys are plumbers," he said. "Not that I have anything against plumbers."
The usual pregame display had an amendment on Wednesday. The Deacon mascot did not ride out on the Harley-Davidson; the sound and fury might not have felt right immediately after the video tribute. But the lights were dimmed and the volume pumped up a bit, giving the air a reasonably familiar treatment.
The atmosphere was, appropriately enough, the brainchild of the man now on the Xavier sidelines, Chris Mack. The Musketeers' head coach, who played for Prosser at Xavier and worked for him at Wake Forest, allowed himself to watch for a second before talking to his team.
On a winter's plane trip back from a loss in Milwaukee one night in 2003, Prosser said the Joel needed a jolt before the next home game, a tilt with Duke set for four nights later. Mack suggested the motorcycle and the wall of sound, and a tradition was born. The Deacs won that game in double overtime, and a tradition and a stretch of tremendous excitement were born.
"This is my second experience," Mack said. "It's always special to be back in the Joel. Unfortunately, we've been on the losing end both times. I know Wake has gone through some tough times, but they'll turn it around. I like their freshmen."
A second-half timeout featured an announcement that would have surely brought a smile to Prosser's Irish countenance. The Skip Prosser Literacy Program, established in 2008, has infused 13,500 Winston-Salem Forsyth Schools students with a new appreciation of reading. Of that number, 4,500 kids have earned special recognition by finishing 20 or more books per fall semester. The most recent honorees will be publicly acclaimed at a future home game.
And the Deacons will keep working until and after that point as they seek to return to the ACC's upper half, the air Prosser's teams enjoyed for most of his tenure. In other words, they'll try to generate a few more Skip superlatives.