As many have probably heard, Wake Forest is looking at some renovations to the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, likely within the next five years or so.
Among these renovations needs to be a naming of the basketball court, and while this is a somewhat controversial and highly debated issue, the name really needs to be “Skip Prosser Court”.
Arenas all over the country have names for their basketball courts: Coach K Court at Duke, Bobby Cremins Court at Georgia Tech, Jim Boeheim Court at Syracuse, Gary Williams Court at Maryland, and Denny Crum Court at Louisville, to name a few honorees from fellow current or former Atlantic Coast Conference schools. Other schools like North Carolina have arenas named after their coach (in this case, the Dean E. Smith Center).
While I greatly appreciate the generosity of donors such as Bob McCreary, Ben Sutton, and Mit Shah, and certainly believe that they deserve to have their names on facilities at Wake Forest, the basketball court just isn’t one of those places. A basketball court should be named after someone who had a great impact on the university while playing or coaching on that court.
Some may say that Coach Prosser is already honored with a banner in the rafters. While this is a true statement, I don’t know how many people actually pay attention to those banners. For one thing, the majority of the seats in the Joel find their view of those banners blocked by the outdated 25,000 ton center-hung video board. People watching the game on TV will never see the banner unless the network specifically focuses on it for some reason.
But if the court was named after Coach Prosser, everyone in the arena as well as those watching from home on TV would be able to see that and be reminded of the impact that Skip had on Wake Forest University.
In his six short years as the head basketball coach of the Demon Deacons, Skip Prosser transformed Wake Forest basketball, both on and off the court.
Skip was a friend to everyone, and never met a stranger. I can recall countless times being out in the Winston-Salem community wearing my tie-dye when I would see Coach Prosser, and he would comment on how he liked my shirt and really appreciated me supporting the team. He sent me a media guide and signed poster of the 2003-04 team for my 9th birthday on which he had written, “Happy Birthday, Edward! Go Deacs!”, a poster that is now framed and hangs proudly on my bedroom wall to this day.
Every summer that Skip was coach, one of the things I would request for Christmas was money to be set aside to go to his basketball camp in the summer. While the basketball teaching was second-to-none, the thing I remember most was him teaching about the “ABCs of life”, which were “Academics, Basketball, Character”. Coach Prosser talked about the importance of balancing each of these, and how you could never succeed in life without learning how to manage each of these. This mantra was instilled in hundreds of young campers today, and that is a part of Skip’s legacy that lives on.
Another thing that Coach Prosser taught was to “never delay gratitude”, a mantra which I still live by today. As many of you have noticed, I try to do a lot of interviews with various Wake Forest people that are then posted on this site, and one of the very first things I do after the interview is to write them a thank-you note. I attribute that to both my mother and Coach Prosser’s saying.
On the court, Coach Prosser is one of only three coaches in ACC history to take a team to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years as head coach, something that not even Coach K, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, or other Hall of Fame ACC coaches have accomplished. Prosser is also the only coach in the history of the NCAA to take three different teams to the NCAA Tournament in his first season as the head coach of the program. Prosser won 100 games at an ACC school quicker than all but two coaches in the 55-year history of the conference.
Skip was a valiant recruiter, who constantly went against blue-blood programs and wasn’t afraid to challenge them for top recruits, especially in the state of North Carolina. He brought in more five-star commitments (counting the 2008 class that committed to him before he passed away) than the rest of Wake Forest’s coaches combined.
His teams were always exciting to watch, as he preferred a fast-tempo, explosive offense that consistently averaged over 80 points per game. At Wake Forest, Prosser's teams averaged 21 wins per season while playing in arguably the nation's most difficult league. In 2003, the Deacons won the ACC regular season championship outright for the first time in more than 40 years. In the 2004-05 season, Wake Forest rose to No. 1 in the national polls for the first time in school history. The Deacons were ranked in the Associated Press top 25 for a school record 60 consecutive weeks under Prosser.
Wake defeated 18 different nationally ranked opponents during Prosser’s tenure, won a school record 27 games in 2004-05, and became the first ACC ever to lead the nation in rebounding in 2003.
I highly recommend checking out his bio on the WakeForestSports page for more statistics on Prosser’s time at Wake.
According to the wikipedia page on Prosser, the spring semester prior to summer exhibition tours, Prosser would require that every member of his team take a one-credit class on the history of the place they would be visiting. He would also attend the class and write the required term paper. That was a part of Skip’s emphasis on academics, a policy that led to every senior under Prosser graduating in four years.
Perhaps the greatest impact Prosser had though was his change in the game day atmosphere, a change which unfortunately has mostly been lost since his passing.
Prosser is credited for sparking participation in the Wake Forest student Screamin' Demons and increasing attendance with game-time antics, like having the Demon Deacon mascot enter the Joel on a black and gold Harley Davidson and filling the coliseum with Zombie Nation's "Kernkraft 400" when the Deacons would go on a run. I still jump up and down like crazy for the duration of the song every time it is played, as I saw the Screamin’ Demons do while Prosser was coaching.
With an exciting style of basketball, a strong relationship with the student body and raucous pre-game festivities, Prosser and his staff turned Lawrence Joel Coliseum into one of the loudest facilities around. With black and gold tie-dyed T-shirts filling the arena and the mascot riding a Harley-Davidson, the atmosphere in Wake's home arena turned 180 degrees.
In fact, Wake Forest was once listed as one of the top 10 most difficult places to play in the country, with the Screamin’ Demons in their tie-dyes being so raucous behind the basket. While most have moved on, I still wear a tie-dye to all games, as a way of honoring Skip.
Students even began to camp out in their own version of “Krzyzewskiville” to get the best seats before games like Duke and Carolina in what they called “Prosserville”. One of his favorite things to do was to go to these gatherings of students and tell them “Meet me on the quad at midnight!”
Prosser and company made home games more than just a basketball game, but an event, resulting in increased attendance. In 2005-06, for the first time in school history, Wake Forest sold completely out of season tickets. There were 14,665 (full capacity) tickets sold or distributed to every home game that year.
Skip was quoted as saying "Wake Forest has the vision to be the best university it can be and to be one of the best in the country. The same is true with our basketball team. We want to be the best team we can be and we want to compete with the best teams in the country."
He viewed himself not as a coach, but as a teacher. "Coaching isn't wins and losses," Prosser said. "It's teaching. That's the reason I got into coaching and the reason I've stayed in coaching. I hope that I remain in the business of education."
Wake Forest is still recovering from losing Skip Prosser because of the great human being that he was.
I can’t think of a way more fitting to honor him than by naming the court at the Joel Coliseum “Skip Prosser Court”.
Skip was the greatest, and I miss him dearly. I like to think that each time Wake gets a big win and the quad is rolled, Skip looks down and smiles. May he rest in peace.