Prosser makes fast break at Loyola

December 23, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

A conversation with Skip Prosser can roam in many directions. His thoughts drift from the values of man-to-man defense to the challenges of fatherhood. He quotes Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Red Auerbach with the same enthusiasm. He is equally comfortable with a history book or a clipboard.

When talking about the mission Prosser has assumed as the men's basketball coach at Loyola College, watch your step. It's fair to remind him about last season, a 2-25 season that was the worst in the Greyhounds' 85-year history. A season in which the team unraveled after losing stars Tracy Bergan and Michael Reese to academic and disciplinary problems, then coach Tom Schneider, who resigned in midseason.

Just don't refer to Prosser's rookie head coaching season as a "rebuilding" year.

"I hate that word," Prosser says. "We're trying to be as good as we can be right now. We have a certain level of expectations, and we're not going to drop that level. We're not interested in rebuilding. We want to win now."

The Greyhounds have taken Prosser's cue. With a team that has shown striking examples of quickness, hustle and heart -- not to mention Bergan, the senior point guard who returned to ignite the offense after a year's absence -- Loyola (3-2) already has surpassed last season's victory total.

The Loyola campus is buzzing with optimism these days. Take the night of Dec. 1, when Towson State came into Reitz Arena favored to win.

For the first time in several years, the gym was nearly packed, mostly with raucous Loyola fans, some of them wearing painted faces and cone heads. They got to see the Greyhounds, trailing late in regulation, tie the score on a three-point shot by freshman Darius Johnson. The Greyhounds won in overtime.

"That's the first time in quite a while that I saw the students really connecting with our team," says Joe Boylan, Loyola's athletic director. "Skip has touched the players and convinced them that they can win. He has established a very positive image of our basketball program all over the campus."

"I think Skip brings a new approach to the college," Towson State coach Terry Truax says. "He's upbeat. He's a person of integrity. He's an aggressive recruiter who will make us all work harder, and that's good for the area. The future is bright for Loyola basketball."

And Prosser, 43, has made an impact in short time. Last April, he left behind a successful, eight-year run as an assistant at Xavier to try his hand at running a college program.

By the time he decided to leave Xavier, Prosser had become the top assistant to Pete Gillen, who has led the Musketeers to six Midwestern Collegiate Conference titles and seven appearances in the NCAA tournament. Being one step from the head of a sound program, why would he vacate Cincinnati and head for a program in Loyola's condition?

"I wasn't desperate. I love Cincinnati, and I love Xavier. Coach [Gillen] gave me a lot of leeway recruiting and coaching. But I was anxious to have my own team," says Prosser, who lives in Rodgers Forge.

"This city reminds me of Cincinnati, and I wanted to go to a school I would feel comfortable selling. Loyola is a great school academically. I also like the [Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference] league, because I think the schools have very similar philosophies. All of the pieces were there, so it was a no-brainer for me."

Prosser's main initial concern was reversing the school's losing attitude. The Greyhounds have not had a winning season in seven years. Taking a tip from Massachusetts coach John Calipari, who has turned a once-moribund program into a national contender, Prosser started by making as many concrete changes as he could.

New uniforms were ordered. The locker room was overhauled. New lockers and new carpeting were added. The walls were repainted, including several slogans that Prosser uses as mantras. "Family" is painted over the exit. "Play Hard Play Together" adorns the wall over the blackboard. The center-court floor was refinished over the summer. Even the Greyhounds' bench was moved to the opposite end of the gym.

While those changes were being made, Prosser sent his message to the players. Get in superior shape during the summer. Work hard or else. Freshmen and seniors will be treated equally. We are not rebuilding.

"You can't take a day off with him," says starting guard Johnson, one of the three freshmen Prosser was able to recruit, despite taking over at such a late date.

Prosser has followed up by getting two more highly regarded New York players during the fall early signing period. Last month, John McDonald, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Mount Vernon High, and Ahmad Jackson, a 6-8 forward from Archbishop Molloy, committed to Loyola.

"He [Prosser] is a really a straight shooter," Johnson says. "He tells you your role as a player, and he sticks to it. He told me where I stood from the beginning. He said if I came in and worked hard, I'd play right away. That's what happened."

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