Prosser not a state native, but beloved nonetheless
July 26 was a sad sports anniversary in our state. It was the five-year anniversary of the sudden passing of former Wake Forest men's basketball coach Skip Prosser.
Prosser was a native of the Pittsburgh area but we always considered him a West Virginian. He loved our state and its people and was proud of starting his coaching career here.
He coached at Linsly Military Institute in Wheeling from 1977-79, compiling a record of 38-9. He then moved to Wheeling Central, where most in our state came to know him. He compiled a record of 104-48 in six seasons.
I first saw Prosser in March of 1981, when he was coaching the Maroon Knights in the semifinals of the Class AA state tournament. That was the year Northfork, led by legendary coach Jennings Boyd, was attempting to make national high school history. The Blue Demons had won seven straight state titles and were trying to set a national record by winning number eight.
It was supposed to be a walk in the park for Northfork, but someone forget to tell Prosser and his team.
With a roster of mostly juniors, the Maroon Knights led in the fourth quarter and almost pulled the upset. One of those juniors was a guard named Doug Wojcik, who went on to play with David Robinson at Navy and is now the new head coach at the College of Charleston.
Northfork won the game in the fourth quarter and went on to beat Dehan Jefferson and Dunbar in the title game. Wheeling Central won the AA state title the next year, beating Sissonville in the finals. Fans and media at those tournaments knew they were seeing a terrific young coach in Prosser.
Prosser later coached for 21 seasons at the Division I level, first as an assistant for Pete Gillen at Xavier and then as the head coach at Loyola (Md.), Xavier and Wake Forest. In 21 years, his teams made 18 postseason tournament appearances.
He was at Wake Forest as head coach from 2001-07. One of his assistants there was former Marshall point guard Jeff Battle.
While at Wake, Prosser recruited Olympic point guard Chris Paul. He was also the coach of the Demon Deacons the night that Mike Gansey led a John Beilein-coached West Virginia team over Wake Forest in a 2007 second-round NCAA tournament game, winning 111-105 in double overtime.
When he coached at Xavier, Prosser's teams had a fierce cross-city rivalry with Cincinnati and Bob Huggins. Despite the rivalry, he and Huggins were great friends and remained that way until Prosser died.
Wake Forest radio voice Stan Cotton remembers what made Prosser special.
"Skip always said he never really intended to be a coach or a college coach," said Cotton. "He really just wanted to be a teacher, and he started coaching as a hobby.
"He turned out to be so good at it that he could not give it up. He had an ability that many coaches don't have, but wish they had. He cared about every player and he had the ability to relate to every one of his players. Most coaches don't even try to do that at the Division I level."
Prosser was very well liked in the coaching profession. When he died five years go, it seemed that most head coaches in the eastern United States were at his funeral.
Prosser may have grown up in Pennsylvania and lived in Ohio and North Carolina, but he also considered himself a West Virginian.
Reach Frank Giardina at firstname.lastname@example.org.