It was 3 days before the 2004 Sweet 16 at the Meadowlands. Phil Martelli was seated in his Saint Joseph's office with his assistant coaches watching a tape of opponent Wake Forest's second-round win over Manhattan. Martelli stopped the tape to call Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. The coaches were good friends from Prosser's time in the Atlantic 10 as the Xavier coach.
Prosser had left Martelli a message: "We are just a couple of ninth-grade coaches. I don't know what we're doing in this game. Congratulations to you and the staff."
The coaches talked about Xavier, a team whose senior stars Prosser had recruited. Xavier was also in the Sweet 16.
When they hung up, they said they would see each other in 2 days. "Skip's a nice guy," Martelli told his staff. "He said to tell you that he hopes you get whatever you want from this. He'd be happy to make a call."
Skip Prosser was a really nice guy, almost the anti-coach. He insisted on making the game fun for his players and the fans. He was whimsical talking about the vagaries of the game. He had a perspective in a profession where perspective is often lacking.
Prosser died at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center yesterday afternoon. The coach, 56, suffered an apparent heart attack in his office, a few hours after he returned from an AAU tournament in Orlando, Fla. Prosser was one of many big-name coaches attending Rbk U camp at Philadelphia University 2 weeks ago. In a profession where just about everybody is jealous of somebody, there was unanimity on Prosser. People liked him.
"I just got off a plane, rolled over to see a game," Martelli said from Orlando. "I just heard. I'm coming home. I can't do this.
"It's just so hard. He just recommended the book to me about the Duke lacrosse case, 'It's Not About the Truth.' I just finished it.
"I picked up the phone to call him the other day. Another call came in and I never spoke to him about it."
Martelli said the scene in Orlando where coaches from around the country had gathered, was "complete shock."
"I will tell you something that's really eerie," Martelli said. "I can't get it out of my head. Last year, and it may have even been the exact same day at the same place, is when I first heard 'Ozzie' had brain cancer."
Ozzie was Walt "Ozzie" Ostrowski, the longtime basketball coach at Hatboro-Horsham High, a starter on the legendary 1967 Ambridge High Pennsylvania state champions. Ozzie, who coached Matt and Pat Carroll and had friends throughout the basketball community and beyond, died July 9.
"To be honest with you, whether a kid can make a jumper or go at anybody, who really cares at this point?" Martelli said. "I'm coming home. I'm going to take myself off the road."
Prosser's son, Mark, an assistant at Bucknell, was in Orlando yesterday. He got a call in the gym around midafternoon. Everybody saw him leave crying. Word spread quickly.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy was with Prosser in Orlando on Wednesday before flying home yesterday.
"I was standing right next to him," Dunphy said. "He looked great, taking care of himself."
Dunphy said he and Prosser were watching a game when one coach decided to hold the ball because the other team was in a zone. An AAU tournament is not where you expect to see somebody holding the ball.
"What are we doing here?" Dunphy remembers himself saying to Prosser. "We came down to watch you guys play. We were just kind of cracking on that a little bit. Then, I get this phone call today."
Prosser grew up in Pittsburgh. One of his best friends is Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, also a Western Pennsylvania native. Prosser was at Wake Forest for 6 years. He was at Xavier for 7 years before that. In his first college head-coaching job, he took Loyola (Md.) to its only NCAA Tournament in his one season there. He was the only coach in NCAA Tournament history to take three different schools to the tournament in his first year at that school.
In 2003, Wake won the ACC regular-season championship outright for the first time in more than 40 years. In 2004-05, Wake Forest, with sophomore point guard Chris Paul, became No. 1 in the polls for the first time. Under Prosser, Wake Forest was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for a school-record 60 consecutive weeks.
Prosser had a career record of 291-146, 126-68 at Wake Forest.
"I don't have a career record," Prosser said in his Wake Forest media guide bio. "The players won those games."
Skip Prosser is survived by his wife, Nancy, and sons, Scott (28) and Mark (27). *