Our friend the late Coach Skip Prosser was one of the most genuine and caring individuals in the game of basketball. It seems like every coach has a story about time they spent with Skip. He had a special ability to touch those around him both young and old with his energetic and caring personality.
In May of 2007 I traveled with Skip to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to coach and spend time with the troops as part of Operation Hardwood IV: Hoops with the Troops Tournament. I have been on several trips with the USO to visit the troops and they are all unique, fun, and memorable but spending a week with Skip in Kuwait on that trip was truly life-changing.
During our time in Kuwait we would visit with as many different groups of troops as possible outside of the Basketball tournament in which all 7 of the coaches on the trip were coaching individual teams.
Skip's ability to relate to young people was never more on display than when we had down time on the trip to visit with the troops. They absolutely loved hearing from his collection of stories. As coaches the group of us would stay up all night talking some X' s and O's, but more often the conversations turned to our thoughts on leading young people.
When it came time for the actual basketball on the trip, Skip approached it like any other team, he set out to teach, lead, and make sure his players had fun. Along the way his team the Camp Arifjan Defenders ended up winning the championship of the Tournament.
While coaching a group of troops in a gym thousands of miles away from our college basketball world, Skip made sure his group of basketball playing soldiers tasted championship basketball and had fun. It was the same thing he did for years starting as a high school coach in West Virginia all the way up to Wake Forest and the ACC.
Sitting on an outdoor bench in the Kuwait desert a few nights before we left, we reflected on our Operation Hardwood experience. It was at that moment Skip helped start a tradition I have carried with our programs ever since. Skip and I kept coming back to how important we felt it was in building a program to keep things fun for your players.
There are so many pressures both externally and internally on players and coaches in college basketball. You have to keep things fun for the players we both agreed. We decided that from now on after any road win our respective teams must get ice cream to celebrate the road victory immediately after the game. There is nothing sweeter than a road win in college basketball and what better way to celebrate than with ice cream.
Ever since that moment whenever my teams have earned a road victory we make sure we stop for post-game victory ice cream. There have even been a few instances where we have had to beg to the owners of some local ice cream parlors to stay open a little later to accommodate our team coming through. As years have passed many of our players have enjoyed ice cream as we celebrated road victories.
Skip Prosser's impact was still being felt in college basketball with this small tradition. All the while I can't help but think about my late nights in Kuwait with Skip and the troops and how he always wanted to make sure basketball stayed fun!