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Gaudio: From tragedy will come success at Wake Forest

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Dino Gaudio has taken over for Skip
Prosser before.


More than two decades ago, Gaudio replaced Prosser at a
parochial high school in West Virginia and eventually led that team
to a state title. On Wednesday, Wake Forest chose Gaudio to again
take Prosser's place, this time to replace his late mentor in the
cutthroat Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Just like this situation, he left me good players," Gaudio
said. "Following him was a terrific tribute. He laid the
foundation, set the table and it all worked out, and I hope the
same thing happens here."

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who signed Gaudio to
a five-year contract, praised the 50-year-old Gaudio for his
strength during the two weeks of grieving that followed Prosser's
July 26 death from an apparent heart attack. While making such a
long-term commitment to a coach with a career record of 68-124
might appear unusual, Wellman said he never considered hiring an
interim coach.

"That is the worst-case scenario for a coach to be in,"
Wellman said. "What you're saying is that you're a lame duck. And
how you coach is after every [game], the players start thinking
you're a lame duck. ... That was not an option that I was
interested in whatsoever.

"Quite frankly, I expect that to be the first contract [of
many] for Dino," he said. He declined to discuss the value of
Gaudio's deal, as is the practice at the private school.

The speedy hire also appeared aimed at emphasizing stability and
continuity to a recruiting class that's ranked as one of the
nation's best. Among the commitments are forward Al-Farouq Aminu of
Norcross, Ga. (ranked No. 3 nationally by Scout.com), and center Ty
Walker of Wilmington (ranked No. 14 by the service).

"The best way I can say it is, I feel really excited about this
year, and I feel really, really, really excited about the next four
years," Gaudio said, taking care not to break NCAA rules banning
coaches from discussing high school players. "I think that's all
I'm allowed to say."

Dave Telep, basketball recruiting editor for Scout.com, said
Gaudio's promotion was key for the program to begin healing after
Prosser's death.

"From a recruiting perspective, the only move that could unify
their present roster and give them the best chance of maintaining
their three commitments was to hire somebody from within," he
said. "I'm sure it was a difficult decision because that staff is
loaded with high-character guys, and I don't think anybody on that
staff thought of themselves as above another guy."

Wellman outlined his search plans during a meeting with current
staff members last Friday, the day before Prosser's burial in
Cincinnati.

"My priority was to secure a basketball coach that would do the
things that they had laid the foundation for," Wellman said.

A nearly four-hour interview with Gaudio on Monday led Wellman
to strongly consider him that night, and a day later he finalized
the decision to promote Prosser's longtime assistant.

"Nobody is going to be more driven, more motivated to complete
the task that we set out a few years ago," Gaudio said. "We'll
make certain that what we started, we're going to finish."

Sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith said the players were
relieved that Gaudio was promoted, because there was a lingering
worry about having to learn the new systems and schemes of an
unfamiliar leader.

"Coach would want us to keep fighting, keep pushing, put this
behind us and move on with coach Gaudio," Smith said.

Prosser and Gaudio first paired up in 1980-81 at a Catholic
school in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. The native of
Yorkville, Ohio, took over the program at tiny Wheeling Central in
1984-85 after Prosser left to join Xavier's staff, and a year
later, won a state championship.

They reunited in 1987 under Pete Gillen at Xavier and stayed
together until 1993, when Prosser took the head job at Loyola of
Maryland and Gaudio accepted a similar position at Army. Gaudio
went 36-72 in four seasons with the Black Knights before moving to
Loyola of Maryland, where he was 32-52 before he resigned in 2000.

He rejoined Prosser at Xavier in 2000-01, and the two moved to
Wake Forest together the following season.

Prosser's death following a midday jog stunned the college
basketball world and left Wake Forest's close-knit campus in
disbelief.

"I have a very heavy heart in how this opportunity presented
itself," Gaudio said. "You know how much Skip meant to me. He was
my best friend, he was my mentor, he's the one I turned to for
advice, and he always looked out for me. Maybe he's looking out for
me right now."

An example of how close the two were: Gaudio was nervous Tuesday
night when calling Prosser's mother to tell her he would take over
for her son. He shouldn't have worried.

"She was like, 'Terrific!' She was excited, and she made me
feel so good," Gaudio said. "I said, 'Grandma Jo, you're still in
this family, and I still need your advice."'