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July 25, 2008

Memory of Prosser still strong for Gaudio

It's the final recruiting weekend of the year, but Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio would rather be at home. Or at least anywhere but Orlando, where he and dozens of other Division I coaches are heading for the annual AAU national championships.

It was during the same event in Orlando last year where Gaudio last saw his best friend, then-Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. One day later, Prosser died of a heart attack in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Prosser's death, which rocked the college hoops world, particularly in coaching circles. There will be a memorial mass held in his honor at 7:15 a.m. on the main court at the Milk House in Disney World. Numerous coaches are expected to be there.

"I told the guys I'm not looking forward to Orlando," Gaudio said on a teleconference Thursday. "I'm really not. I told (Wake assistant) Jeff (Battle) that I don't want to stay in the same hotel that Skip and I stayed when we were there."

Gaudio, who was named Prosser's replacement two weeks after his death, has been served with constant reminders of Prosser during every stop on the recruiting trail this summer.

"I was in Philadelphia for the Reebok Classic at the beginning of the month and I ran into (Rhode Island coach) Jimmy Baron," Gaudio said. "He said, 'This is the last place I talked to Skip.' "

"(The Wake Forest staff was) in Las Vegas yesterday and every year we always stay at the Marriott Suites there. We always meet in the morning for breakfast. (Saint Joseph's coach) Phil Martelli walked past and said he had a flashback because that is the same spot we always sat with Skip.

"It's amazing how many people he touched that remember all those things."

Nobody may remember Prosser better than the players who will wear Wake Forest's jersey next season. Every player either played for or was recruited by Prosser, and they all plan to meet for dinner Saturday.

"We're going to get dressed up and have a little memorial for him," senior guard Harvey Hale said. "We don't want everybody around."

Prosser, whose funeral was attended by every ACC head coach, stayed relatively calm on the sideline and always considered himself more of a teacher than a coach. But Hale vividly remembers Prosser's fiery side and says that is what he misses most.

"He was always on me, always pushing me," Hale said. "Coach Gaudio would yell, but it wasn't anything like Coach Prosser yelling. He always said, 'When I stop yelling at you, that's when you should worry.'

"I took that for granted."

Last season's Demon Deacons were coming off a 15-16 campaign, the only losing mark of Prosser's tenure, and the roster didn't include a senior. The Deacons, who dedicated their season to Prosser, exceeded expectations, at one point climbing to third place in the ACC standings. They finished in a tie for seventh, with a 17-13 record. The season was highlighted by an 86-73 upset of then-No. 9 Duke in Winston-Salem.

"Skip would be proud of the kids because of how hard they worked and how mentally tough they were through difficult times," Gaudio said. "He would be proud of how much better we were defensively."

Prosser may have been even more proud of Wake's latest recruiting class, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation. All three of the five-star prospects in the class 6-foot-9 forward Al-Farouq Aminu and 6-11 centers Ty Walker and Tony Woods committed before Prosser's death and signed with the Deacons.

Hale admits he didn't expect the entire trio to stay on board.

"I was actually shocked really shocked," Hale said. "The coaching staff said they were still recruiting them really hard. They told them the whole team was still here and they didn't lose anybody. If any of the coaches had left, that probably would have hurt us."

The freshmen already have impressed Hale and teammates. They recently enrolled in summer classes at Wake and have been playing in pick-up games.

"If you don't have a floater, a tear-drop or a pull-up game, it's going to be hard to get layups on us," Hale said. "We have a lot of depth at the big-man position."

The Deacons will have a good amount of depth at almost every position. They return every starter and contributor, including two of the nation's most promising sophomores - guard Jeff Teague and forward James Johnson. The lightning-quick Teague scored 26 points in the memorable upset of Duke and averaged 19.1 points in the final eight games of the season. Johnson led all ACC freshmen in scoring (14.6 ppg) and pulled down a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game.

Take all that and add a huge influx of talent and size, and Wake looks poised to be a contender in the ACC. Some pundits already are picking the Deacons to finish third in the league, behind North Carolina and Duke, and they have a legitimate shot at being in the top 25 in the preseason polls.

Gaudio welcomes the lofty predictions, saying he believes his team can live up to the hype. But there is no doubt he would trade all of it to have his old friend back, especially this weekend.

"I still think about him every day," Gaudio said. "I never would have gotten here without him. We wouldn't be here without him."

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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