The Game Is Not The Same

by Jay Bilas (ESPN)
The Game Is Not The Same

I have always enjoyed my time in the game, but I have never enjoyed it more than when I was broadcasting games in the Atlantic 10 in the mid to late 1990’s. Every time I had Xavier game, I looked forward to spending time at practice with Musketeer coach Skip Prosser, whom I considered to be one of the true good guys in the game.

I miss Skip. To me, the game has not been the same since he left it.

When I first saw Prosser’s Musketeer’s in a shootaround, I couldn’t believe how hard they were going. Xavier had a game in six hours in the old Cincinnati Gardens, and Prosser was presiding over a knock down, drag out battle on the floor among Lenny Brown, Gary Lumpkin, Darnell Williams, James Posey and Torraye Braggs. It was eye opening, to say the least. After the workout, Prosser sat down and I told him that I had never seen any team go that hard in a shootaround. He said, “if you’re going to lace ‘em up, you might as well play. I don’t know any other way.”

Every time I was with Skip Prosser, on a basketball court or off, I learned something, or I thought of something in a different way. He was a teacher first, a man that had stood in a classroom before a group of students and was charged with educating them. In my judgment, Skip carried that forward into his coaching. He loved to compete, but he also loved to teach and to learn.

Two things I remember most about Skip Prosser: he never made excuses, and he always said thank you. “Never delay gratitude,” he would always say, and he lived it. Once, after Skip had accepted the job at Wake Forest, I spoke at an event for him, and at the conclusion of the event, he handed me an envelope with a check in it. I wouldn’t take it from him, and told him I accepted the event simply because he asked me. That wasn’t good enough for Skip. He knew I had a young son, Anthony, and he said I should send him to his summer camp.

My wife and I thought our son was a bit too young for a week of overnight camp, so Skip encouraged me to bring Anthony to his two day “Father-Son” camp. I agreed, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Just before Fathers’ Day, Skip and his staff ran the Father-Son camp, and a bunch of dads and their sons went through camp together, ate together, and stayed in the dorms together. And, Skip had his players working the camp, so Anthony and the other kids did drills with Chris Paul, Justin Gray and Eric Williams. Skip and his players were absolutely great with the kids, and Anthony left the camp a huge Wake Forest fan, and he left there thinking that Skip and Chris Paul were his friends.

The following season, in 1995, I was assigned the Wake Forest-Illinois game when the Deacons were ranked No. 2 in the country. Illinois crushed Wake, and after the game I called my wife to check in. She told me that Anthony took the Wake loss pretty hard, and cried. Later, I went into the Wake Forest locker room to see Skip, and after we had talked for a while, he asked me how Anthony was doing. I told him what my wife had told me, and I didn’t think much of it.

Later that season, I was broadcasting the Wake Forest-Texas game, and I took Anthony with me. Before the game, Skip came over to where Anthony was sitting, and whispered in his ear. Later, I asked Anthony what Coach Prosser had said, and Anthony told me, “He said not to worry about it, because he cried after the Illinois game, too.”

The summer before Skip passed away, he called me to ask about a trip I had taken to the Middle East for something called Operation Hardwood. I was one of a group of college coaches that traveled to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait to coach U.S. soldiers in a basketball tournament. Skip had been asked to go, and he was considering it. He asked me what I thought he should do. I told him that he should go, and that he would be the perfect coach and person for that trip. And, I told him that it would change his life, because it had changed mine.

Skip went, and his team won the tournament. His photo still hangs in the gym at Camp Arifjan. Later that summer after Skip returned, I went to Winston-Salem at Skip’s request to host his first Coaches v. Cancer event, and prior to the event, he asked if he could see me privately out on the balcony. I stepped outside with him, thinking he would want to talk about the logistics of the evening. Instead, he wanted to thank me for convincing him go to the Middle East. He told me about what he had learned, that it had indeed changed his life, and that I had undersold the experience. He spoke so passionately about it, and how he would be a better coach and person for it. He wished he could have taken his team with him, and he said he couldn’t wait to use what he had learned with his team. He was really fired up about it.

A few days later, I received the call that Skip had died in his office after finishing a run. Like everyone who knew him, I was devastated. I had lost a friend, and the game had lost one of the good guys. The truth is, they just don’t make men like Skip Prosser very often. I was lucky to have known him.

I still miss him.