WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Skip Prosser, who led Wake Forest to its first basketball No. 1 ranking three seasons ago, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack, the university said. He was 56.
Prosser was found slumped on his office couch and unresponsive by director of basketball operations Mike Muse shortly after returning from his noon jog, athletics director Ron Wellman said. Medical personnel performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Prosser, who was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and pronounced dead at 1:41 p.m.
Wellman said he was unaware of any previous health issues for Prosser, calling his death “a devastating loss” during a news conference Thursday night.
“Because of his strength, we’ll be able to go on and we’ll be just fine eventually,” Wellman said. “We’re not right now. We’re all suffering right now.”
Dr. William Applegate, the dean of the university medical school, said the events were “typical of a sudden massive heart attack.”
“This kind of attack, when it’s not witnessed by someone next to the person and CPR is not started within seconds, then the outcome is often not good,” Applegate said.
Confirmation of Prosser’s death was delayed until Thursday night because his wife was traveling to Cincinnati and could not be reached to notify her, Wellman said.
He said team officials gathered several players in the afternoon and took them to an off-campus location without their cell phones for about four hours in an attempt to temporarily shield them from news reports of Prosser’s death.
“They’ve all been in shock,” Wellman said. “The longer it went, probably they realize that it was a tragic situation, but when I told them, it confirmed their worst thoughts, and they responded as you would expect, a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds who I think loved their coach.”
Prosser had been in Orlando, Fla., earlier this week for an AAU national tournament and had lunch Wednesday with South Carolina coach Dave Odom, his predecessor at Wake Forest.
Prosser spent six seasons with the Demon Deacons, winning an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title in 2003 and reaching the NCAA tournament in his first four seasons. Wake Forest went to No. 1 for the first time during the 2004-05 season.
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“His passing is a tremendous loss for the entire Wake Forest community,” Paul said in a statement. “He played a very significant role in my life and his influence extended well beyond the game of basketball. He taught me many valuable life lessons and was someone I admired with the utmost respect.”
Before arriving in Winston-Salem, Prosser was head coach at Xavier for seven seasons and at Loyola of Maryland for one.
Prosser had a career record of 291-146 as a head coach, including 126-68 with Wake Forest. While there, he coached future NBA stars Paul and Josh Howard, and was the ACC coach of the year in 2003. He is the only coach to take three schools to the NCAA tournament in his first season at each.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who replaced Prosser at Xavier in 2001, called him “one of the all-time great people in coaching.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was “absolutely shocked and deeply saddened” by Prosser’s death.
“Over these last four seasons there have been several occasions on which he was the first coach to call and offer his heartfelt congratulations,” Williams said in a statement. “Skip was someone who will be measured in terms of his actions, not just words. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. The world has lost a great person and great family man.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement that Prosser was “ultimately respected for his coaching ability, his quick humor and, most importantly, for being a quality person. We lost him far too soon.”
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