|At Wake Forest, a season to remember will honor Skip Prosser|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007 13:54|
They squeezed themselves into every one of the building's 1,500 seats - and then some - in search of a glimmer of hope at the dawn of this sure-to-be emotional season.
But mostly, they craved their first chance to cheer their late coach and the team he left behind, a stirring scene that afterward moved new coach Dino Gaudio - Prosser's best friend - to grab the microphone.
``After what happened this summer, so many people around the country said, 'How do you get through that?''' Gaudio told the crowd. ``Wake Forest is a special place, and the things that make it special are the people. You're such a big, big part of that.''
There may not be a more close-knit campus in the tradition-rich Atlantic Coast Conference than Wake Forest, which has an enrollment of about 6,500 and is the smallest school in the league. It seems as if everybody knows everybody else here, and perhaps that explains why this community was so devastated by Prosser's sudden death in July of an apparent heart attack at age 56.
To this impassioned student body, Prosser wasn't just the coach of the school's basketball team for six years. He coached the students, too, serving as the beloved maestro of their rowdy section.
During six seasons in Winston-Salem he embraced their energy, giving birth to the ``Screaming Deacons'' who whoop it up behind one of the baskets at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and creating as their unofficial uniforms those now-ubiquitous gold-and-black tie-dyed T-shirts. He was known to help ``roll'' the campus quad with toilet paper after big victories.
And that's why the Screaming Deacons are taking it upon themselves to honor Prosser from the stands in the same way the players have vowed to preserve his memory on the court.
``With much work, much sweat, much dedication, we can come together and try to realize his dream of being a really good basketball team,'' said Cam Mateus, a sophomore chemistry major from Hilton Head, S.C. ``That's why we came (to the scrimmage). 'One Team, One Fight.'''
That four-word mantra was introduced to Wake Forest by Prosser, who picked it up in May during a USO trip to Kuwait, where he brought basketball to troops stationed there. Before his death, he had rubber bracelets made for the Demon Deacons bearing the slogan, to remind them of the dedication, work ethic and teamwork required of champions.
Now those words have an entirely new meaning - to give the team, and the university, a renewed sense of purpose.
``We have a lot to play for,'' point guard Ish Smith said. ``Coach Prosser really built the team this year for next year, and the next few years, to be really talented.''
The Nov. 9 season opener against Fairfield was supposed to be the first game that counts for talented freshmen Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Gary Clark, and the first chance for Smith and the other returning Demon Deacons to show how far they've matured after a growing-pain-filled 15-16 season. It was their second straight year of hovering around the .500 mark after the Prosser- and Chris Paul-led team in 2004-05 became Wake Forest's first to be ranked No. 1.
Instead, the Fairfield game will be remembered for a ceremony to honor and remember the late coach, marking the start of a season during which Gaudio has said he wants ``to take this tragedy and make it into the greatest story of the college basketball season.''
``It'll be like a Shakespearean play,'' Gaudio said.
The season no doubt will bring plenty of reminders of Prosser, whose sharp wit and scholarly approach to the sport spawned the ``Skipisms'' that now mark the hallway leading to the Demon Deacons' practice court. One recalls one of his favorite sayings: ``Boys, this is the best place you'll ever be - the gym.''
It's snapshots like those that have galvanized the players' resolve, soothed their emotions and given them something to focus on - namely, honoring their late coach with the kind of passionate play he always demanded.
``I really think there's a little bit of a mission, there's a little bit of a goal there,'' Gaudio said.