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November 13, 2007

Top class has fond memories of coach

On July 26, the sad news quickly spread to basketball gyms across the country.

Many people involved with college basketball sat solemnly on the sidelines after hearing about the sudden death of Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser.

We were again reminded that the games just aren't that important.

Less than six months later, people are talking about coach Prosser and the legacy that he helped build at Wake Forest.

In his 15 years at the helm of a college program, Prosser never signed a class quite like the one that will sign on Wednesday. Wake Forest is anticipating signed National Letters of Intent from Al-Farouq Aminu, Tony Woods and Ty Walker on the first day of the early signing period.

The trio comprises the No. 1 recruiting class for 2008, according to Rivals.com.

Aminu, a 6-foot-8 forward from Norcross (Ga.) High School, is the No. 11 player in the class of 2008 and the top small forward in the nation. Woods, a 6-foot-11 center from Rome (Ga.) High School, is the No. 18 ranked player in the nation and is No. 4 at his position. Walker, a 7-foot-1 center from New Hanover in Wilmington, N.C., checks in at No. 24 in the country. Rivals.com ranks Walker as the seventh best center in the class of 2008.

Previously, the best class Prosser and his staff signed was in 2006. That six-man group finished 10th in the team rankings. Wake Forest's 2003 recruiting class was 16th in the nation and featured Chris Paul, the most famous player to wear a Wake Forest jersey since Tim Duncan.

Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer said the Demon Deacons struck gold with the three instant impact big men in the class. No one else can claim that in this recruiting cycle.

"While a lot of programs are scurrying to find one quality big man, Wake Forest is set to sign three big men," Meyer said. "And we're not just talking quality big men, we're talking three five-star big men.

"Making Wake Forest's recruiting class even better is that Aminu, Walker and Woods can play together. Aminu has power forward size but small forward game. Walker is very effective in the high post and Woods is an athletic low post player."

Common bond

Walker committed to Wake Forest on the same day Florida and Ohio State played for the National Championship.

"No other school recruited me like this school has," Walker said on April 3. "My mom wanted me to go to North Carolina, and it was my dream school growing up. But when Wake Forest offered me, I fell in love with it.

"My mind changed after that. That was the only school that I saw myself going to. Coach Prosser, rest in peace, said that when I committed, he opened up a bottle of wine and celebrated the night that I committed. I am glad to be a part of that program."

Walker said one of the reasons he picked Wake Forest over the likes of North Carolina was the relationship he built with Prosser.

"My relationship with Coach Prosser was real close. I never really had a father figure in my life," Walker said. "I was always able to talk to him about anything. He was the only father figure in my life and we became really close.

"It hurt so bad when I heard the news (of his passing). It still hurts. When I get to Wake Forest, I'm going to dedicate every single game to him. Without him, none of this would have been possible. He was the one that offered me the scholarship. I want to give him my thanks and show his family that I appreciate them."

Aminu said he and Woods were roommates on the road with the Georgia Stars, but they grew closer after the passing of Prosser.

"Right after it happened, we starting talking more and bonded more on a deeper level. We shared a bond through basketball, but now we all shared a bond and been through the bad times together," Aminu said. "We can talk to each other a lot more about things."

Walker said the three have formed a special bond that is different than most incoming recruits.

"We're like brothers, basically," Walker said.

Eddie Martin, Aminu's coach at Norcross, said Prosser and his staff - Dino Gaudio, Jeff Battle, Pat Kelsey and Mike Muse - didn't utilize any fancy tricks during the recruiting process. In fact, it was simple human relationships that proved to be the secret, says Martin.

"He was a down-to-earth guy. He didn't carry himself as someone that has a high opinion of himself," Martin said. "That was one of the things that you could sense from him when you sat down and talked with him.

"I remember him saying, 'I was just a measly old high school coach that really had no aspirations of coaching Division I high-level basketball. One thing fell into place and then another thing fell into place and next thing you know, I'm here. And I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world.'

"You understand where his roots were, and it was at the high school level. Knowing that he started where I started – and where I am at now - I think it provided a bonding."

Looking ahead

Talk to Aminu, Walker or Woods and they all have one goal in mind: a National Championship. Walker said he knew that the Deacons could be in that position as soon as he gave his nod to the program.

"As soon as I committed to Wake Forest, I started getting in contact with Tony Woods and he was telling me that he was going to choose between Florida and Wake Forest," Walker said. "As soon as he said that, I knew that we were going to be something special. I was looking forward to that. Then when Al-Farouq came on with Tony, I was speechless.

"I know we are going to come in, work hard and do what we have to do to win a national championship."

Aminu said he wants to play with a different mind-set this year, in honor of Prosser.

"I think there is a little more fire knowing that you were the last guy to commit to him. It kind of makes you want to dive onto the floor a little harder and a little more often. I think it's motivating," he said.

Walker shares the same sentiment.

"All Coach Prosser ever said to me was, 'That I can't wait to see you play. I know you'll be a successful basketball player.' I was looking forward to that so much.

"I was depressed for a few days. I could barely eat. When I dedicate these games, it is going to be real meaningful. I know Al-Farouq and Tony feel the same way."



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