Hornets' Paul delivers tearful eulogy for ex-coach Prosser

Updated: July 31, 2007, 11:14 PM ET
Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Chris Paul wanted to make sure he made an immediate impact the first time he met Skip Prosser.

The New Orleans Hornets guard was a high school player at an AAU tournament several years ago in Florida when, in a desperate attempt to catch the Wake Forest coach's eye, he walked directly into Prosser's path.

"I bumped into him purposefully so Coach would get to know who I am,'' Paul said through tears Tuesday night during Prosser's funeral. "At the time, I never knew this man would change my life forever. He gave us a chance. He cared about us, and he helped us not only grow as basketball players but also as men.''

Skip Prosser
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeSkip Prosser was bured in Cincinnati on Aug. 4. Dino Gaudio was named Prosser's replacement four days later.
Prosser, who died suddenly last Thursday of an apparent heart attack, was remembered five days later as an engaging, congenial coach who brought integrity to the sport and reignited the students' passion for Wake Forest basketball by leading Paul's final Wake Forest team to the first No. 1 ranking in school history.

"His integrity was unwavering,'' Wake Forest associate head coach Dino Gaudio said. "Those of us that were blessed to be under his charge will carry that with us for the rest of our lives.''

Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, former Virginia coach Pete Gillen and ex-Wake Forest guard Muggsy Bogues joined the 11 other Atlantic Coast Conference coaches -- including Tobacco Road rivals Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of North Carolina -- in packing the Catholic church where Prosser's funeral was held.

"This is the very last day of the recruiting period, and I see so many coaches,'' Gaudio said with a smile. "If he couldn't be on the road recruiting, you guys couldn't be on the road recruiting either.''

Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, who shared ties to western Pennsylvania with the Pittsburgh-born Prosser, called him "my dearest, closest and most trusted friend.'' He got to know him through the network of assistant coaches and saying they called each other several times each week.

"The man I count on for direction is gone,'' DeChellis said. "My compass in life has gone to another place.''

Shortly after returning from his noon jog last Thursday, Prosser was found unresponsive and slumped on his office couch by an assistant coach. Medical personnel performed CPR and used a defibrillator, but Prosser was pronounced dead after being taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Wake Forest is profoundly grateful for the gifts this remarkable man spread in our midst.

-- University president
Nathan O. Hatch

Prosser spent six seasons with the Demon Deacons, reaching the NCAA tournament in his first four seasons and winning an ACC regular-season title and the league's coach of the year award in 2003. The following year, Wake Forest went to No. 1 for the first time.

"Wake Forest is profoundly grateful for the gifts this remarkable man spread in our midst,'' university president Nathan O. Hatch said.

Before arriving in Winston-Salem, Prosser was head coach at Xavier for seven seasons and at Loyola of Maryland for one. He is the only coach to take three schools to the NCAA tournament in his first season at each.

Prosser had a career record of 291-146, including 126-68 with Wake Forest, coaching future NBA stars Paul and Josh Howard.

Along the way, he helped create Wake Forest's "tie-dye nation,'' encouraging students to wear black-and-gold tie-dye T-shirts to games at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and dubbing them the "Screaming Deacons.''

The team's glitzy lineup introduction -- in which the lights go out, spotlights swirl and the school mascot revs a Harley-Davidson as he enters the court -- was another of his creations.

"But away from the games, he was the most understated man I know,'' athletics director Ron Wellman said.

The funeral was simulcast at Wait Chapel on the Wake Forest campus, where several of the roughly 2,000 mourners wore tie-dye T-shirts in his memory.

The makeshift shrine on the campus quad remained as a tribute to Prosser, with toilet paper still floating in the breeze from the ash trees after students "rolled'' it in his honor soon after his death. Dozens of flowers were laid by signs near the entrance, and one bore one of Prosser's favorite mantras -- "If you can't be on time, be early. God called this play and Skip left early. Too early.''

"If Coach were here, he'd be upset, because it was never about Skip,'' Gaudio said. "It was about the guys.''


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE