October 22, 2007

Wake Forest aims to honor late coach

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 storylines for the 2007-08 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 15 storyline centers around the emotional season Wake Forest faces following the sudden death of coach Skip Prosser.

The greatest story in college basketball this season.

That's the lofty goal Wake Forest's new coach Dino Gaudio has set for his team following the sudden death of Skip Prosser in July. Prosser, the coach at Wake for the last six years, died of an apparent heart attack in his office after jogging. He was 56. Gaudio, who worked under Prosser for six years at Wake Forest and Xavier, was promoted 13 days later.

"A day hasn't gone by when I haven't thought of him," Gaudio said at Wake's media day last week. "A week hasn't gone by when I haven't shed a tear. I think he'll always be with us."

Gaudio believes the Demon Deacons are poised for a major turnaround after a young team went 15-16 last season, the only losing mark of Prosser's tenure at the ACC school.

Wake Forest must replace its leading scorer and rebounder, center Kyle Visser, who averaged 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game last season. Guard Anthony Gurley, one of the top reserves, transferred following Prosser's passing.

Four starters are back, and the team will be deeper thanks to a three-man recruiting class that includes a pair of top-100 prospects.

"I really believe we can play 10 guys this year," Gaudio said. "If we're healthy we are going to surprise a lot of people."

Speedy sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith lies at the heart of that optimism. Nobody dished out more assists in the ACC last season than Smith, who averaged 6.0 a game. Smith also racked up 3.6 turnovers a game, but the floor general believes he'll be a much better decision-maker after a year of experience.

"I think the game has slowed down for me so much," Smith said. "Last year, it was everything had to happen now. Not it's kind of slow developing. I'll see something happening. The game really slows down after one year in the ACC."

Sophomore guard L.D. Williams (6.4 ppg) and sophomore forward Jamie Skeen (8.8 ppg) showed promise last season as well. Junior guard Harvey Hale (8.4 ppg) brings valuable experience, having started 34 games over the last two seasons.

The recruiting class is led by point guard Jeff Teague and small forward James Johnson, who are the Nos. 55 and 60 prospects in the class of 2007. Three-star shooting guard Gary Clark was ranked No. 139.

Teague, who has a good combination of speed and athleticism, is expected to play significant minutes. Teague and Smith could be used on the court together, which would create matchup issues for many opponents. Gaudio believes Clark also will contribute.

"Jeff Teague is maybe as quick as (Smith), a little bit bigger," Gaudio said. "Gary Clark brings a dimension that is much needed. He's a terrific shooter and a very good defender. I don't know if we've had two kids, L.D. and Gary, come in as prepared as they are to play college basketball."

Regardless of the personnel changes, Wake's main priority is improving on defense. The Deacons were far too easy to score against, giving up 76.4 points a game last season (the most in the ACC). Opponents shot 45.5 percent from the field, which ranked 10th in the league.

"Since the 17th of September we have been able to work with the guys for two hours a week," Gaudio said. "And in those sessions, it's been all defense. There's a lot that goes into that, but we're going to play fast on offense. I always think we'll be a good rebounding team. I think Skip taught very well. We taught that very well. We guard on the other end, we have a chance to make big, big strides."

Dealing with the emotions of not having Prosser, who recruited every player on the roster, is another issue.

"I think that those questions are going to be asked every city we go in," Gaudio said. "And I think what we have to turn it into, when his name is evoked we feel good about it, it becomes a celebration of his life."

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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