What is the Skip Prosser Classic?

Some of you are Xavier students that had no idea the school existed three years ago, but when you applied and they gave you great money, you accepted. Some of you knew about Xavier, but only started following the team since you’ve been here. Then others of you reading this are life-long Xavier supporters; those that bleed navy and white. Whoever you are and however you ended up a part of the Musketeer community, you have been thrust into the culture of winning basketball, and that culture was entrenched during the Skip Prosser era. So who was he? Why do Xavier and Wake Forest play a game honoring him every year?

In 1985, coming off the departure of coach Bob Staak, Xavier, then a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, tabbed Pete Gillen as the man to take the reigns of the basketball program. This was Gillen’s first head coaching job, but he had a plethora of experience from his days as an assistant, including time he spent as Digger Phelps’ assistant at Notre Dame. Gillen was tasked with continuing the renewed success of Xavier’s program under Staak, and Gillen hired Skip Prosser as an assistant coach of his own.

Gillen would go on to become Xavier’s all-time winningest coach, winning 202 games over nine seasons. He coached Xavier to NCAA tournament appearances in seven of his first eight seasons, a streak that included the Musketeers’ first Sweet 16. Prosser left to become the head coach at Loyola (MD) for the 1993-1994 season, and was only there one year. He made use of the season, winning a MAAC tournament championship for the Greyhounds.

After 1993-1994, Gillen left to take over at Providence, and Prosser was named head coach at Xavier (side note: Gillen now works as a CBS Sports broadcaster, and you may have heard him on the air broadcasting a Xavier game earlier this season).

CROSSTOWN-11/26/96-Xavier head coach Skip Prosser signals to players during the first half of the Crosstown Shootout Tuesday. Photo by Ernest Coleman/Cincinnati Enquirer.km
CROSSTOWN-11/26/96-Xavier head coach Skip Prosser signals to players during the first half of the Crosstown Shootout. Photo by Ernest Coleman/Cincinnati Enquirer

Skip had a remarkable first year at Xavier, going 23-5 overall and 14-0 in their final year in the MCC while earning an NCAA tournament berth. He oversaw the transition into the Atlantic 10 in 1995-1996, and took their lumps the first year at 13-15 (8-8, A10). Needless to say, they may not have beaten the 95-96 Bulls.

Success in sports is all about having a short memory, and that they did. The basketball program did a 180 en route to a 23-6 record (13-3, A10). You may be familiar with one of the most famous moments from that season…

Skip would go on to coach four more seasons at Xavier (seven total), through the 2000-2001 campaign. He compiled a 148-65 record with the Musketeers, good for second in the all-time ranks at the time behind Gillen, but now third behind Gillen and Chris Mack. Prosser was MCC Coach of the Year in 1995 and won an Atlantic 10 regular season championship in 1997 as well as an A10 tournament championship in 1998.

Prosser left to go to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to coach Wake Forest for the 2001-2002 season. A certain familiar face, Chris Mack, was picked by Prosser as an assistant coach. These two were very familiar with each other: when Prosser was an assistant under Gillen at Xavier, Mack was the Musketeers’ team captain for two seasons. Mack was also Prosser’s Director of Basketball Operations before Mack followed him to Wake Forest to serve on his coaching staff. Mack was there until 2004 when he returned to Xavier.

The Demon Deacons were 126-68 overall under Coach Prosser during his six seasons there, and he appeared in the NCAA tournament four times while he was there. He was the ACC Coach of the Year in 2003 when Wake Forest won the ACC regular season championship. He was still the head coach when he died on July 26, 2007 at age 56.

At Xavier, Prosser also coached the likes of David West and James Posey, and at Wake Forest, Prosser coached several great future-NBA players, namely one Chris Paul. He had a winning record against UC, including two wins when the Bearcats were No. 1 in the country.

Coach Prosser with Chris Paul
Coach Prosser with Chris Paul

His legacy doesn’t even stop at Xavier and Wake Forest. Wheeling Central Catholic High School, where Prosser had enormous success including a state championship, just honored him by naming their court after him. Pictured below is Dino Gaudio (left) and Doug Wojcik (right). Gaudio, the former Wake Forest head coach, was an assistant to Prosser at WCC before being Prosser’s assistant at Wake Forest. Wojcik was a standout player for Prosser at WCC who is currently on the coaching staff at Gonzaga University.

skip-prosser-court

In 2009, about two years after Prosser’s untimely death, Xavier and Wake Forest announced they would be starting a 10 year, home-and-home series commemorating the man that was so influential for both of their programs. While the exact schedule of games between the two teams has been altered since the series began in 2009-2010, the Demon Deacons and the Musketeers will face each other several more times to honor Prosser.

Skip was not just known for his on-the-court prowess, but also his off-the-court humanity. His quotable personality and fun-loving spirit brought the best out of people. Upon the news of his shocking death from a massive heart attack in 2007, those he had touched, and even those who had only interacted with him through their fandom, were left stunned. There was a sudden, gaping void in the college basketball universe. His impact was so wide-ranging that two funeral services were held for him, one near the Wake Forest campus and one at the Cintas Center before he was buried locally in Cincinnati.

Skip was a man that left a profound legacy at both schools, and for that, the teams honor him by playing in the Skip Prosser Classic.

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