November 25, 2007

The thing about Skip Prosser isn't that his death was untimely, his work unfinished, but that much about his style was understated and unspoken until he passed.

To the day he died last July 26 from an apparent heart attack at the age of 56, Prosser played by the rules. Not to be lost in the sordid ways practiced by many in the college athletics business, Prosser maintained his humility, dating back to his earliest days as a high school teacher and coach at Linsly Institute in Wheeling, W. Va. For his dedication to teaching, both on and off the court, Prosser is my Sportsman of the Year.

Prosser left behind a winning legacy (291-146 in 14 seasons) for hoop historians, leading Xavier to success (148-65 in seven seasons) before migrating to Wake Forest's tight-knit community in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was there, though, that he bequeathed much more to his program. Already assured of his place in Demon Deacon history by achieving the school's first No.1 ranking and rearing NBA stars Chris Paul and Josh Howard over his seven years as head coach, his efforts were not yet fulfilled. As fate would have it, his greatest recruiting class, three players in the top 25 on's list, had given verbal commitments to him just 13 days before he died after a morning jog.

I spoke with Prosser the evening after Al-Farouq Aminu and Tony Woods offered their verbal commitments during midnight phone calls to the coach last July while at the Peach Jam AAU tournament in North Augusta, S.C. On his way back from dinner, Prosser seemed unaffected by the recruiting coups. Knowing that he could not speak about commitments until they signed a letter of intent in November, he was content to offer only a smile when I suggested his summer business of recruiting was already done.

Thirteen days later he was gone for good. Still, his program, let alone his legacy, will live on with his current Wake players and those recruits, who, even in his passing, signed with Prosser's program during the early signing period.

Two weeks ago, Wake honored Prosser posthumously by raising a banner bearing his likeness to the Lawrence Joel Coliseum rafters. The standing ovation lasted 80 seconds. To be sure, his legacy, spoken or unspoken, will last much longer.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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