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Past, present come together for Xavier's Prosser

CINCINNATI — CINCINNATI -- Skip Prosser recalls it as the most hectic, emotional time of his professional life.

One day, Prosser was enjoying the improbable achievement that capped his first year as a head men's basketball coach. He transformed Loyola College from a 2-25 doormat into an NCAA tournament team.

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The next day, Prosser's old boss, Pete Gillen, announced he was leaving Xavier University to take over at Providence. Within hours, Xavier inquired about Prosser's availability, and Prosser flew to Cincinnati to interview for the Musketeers' head coaching job. The next day, Prosser announced he was leaving Loyola to head back to Xavier.

Today, the Greyhounds and their old coach will be reunited on the court for the first time, when Loyola (2-1) and its new coach, Brian Ellerbe, play Xavier (2-0) at Cincinnati Gardens.

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"I guess I made an emotional decision [by scheduling Loyola], but [Loyola athletic director] Joe Boylan and the people at Loyola handled my decision to leave with so much class," said Prosser, who was an assistant for eight years at Xavier. "A lot of my friends in the business asked me if I was nuts. My old boss [Gillen] would not schedule us this year. We figure the Loyola kids will come in with some extra incentive. It won't be an easy game."

The schools have met seven times, with Xavier winning five games. The last time they met was during the 1991-92 season, when Loyola downed the Musketeers, 68-52.

Prosser said his decision to leave Loyola was tougher than it appears. He made close friends at Loyola and grew fond of Baltimore. He said he will never forget the way his basketball team electrified the Loyola campus by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament as a fifth seed to gain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

But Xavier's offer to return was too tempting. Besides Prosser's familiarity with the program and the area, the school is moving from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference into the more prestigious Atlantic 10 next year. The school also is studying plans to build an 11,000-seat, on-campus arena. Cincinnati Gardens is about 10 minutes off campus.

"The Xavier administration impressed me. They made it clear they weren't satisfied with the status quo," Prosser said. Gillen went 202-75 in nine years there, taking Xavier to seven NCAA tournaments. Today, Prosser will be watching players he recruited -- on both sides. The Musketeers lost All-America forward Brian Grant to the NBA, and star point guard Jeff Gentry also is gone. But senior guard Jeff Massey, whom Prosser recruited when he was Gillen's top assistant, leads a group of returnees that is picked to keep Xavier in contention for another Midwestern Collegiate title.

On the Loyola side, sophomore guards Darius Johnson and Milt Williams -- heroes in last year's MAAC tournament -- were signed by Prosser. Johnson, a native of Cincinnati, will be going home to play in front of about 35 friends and family.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be nervous for a while playing in front of the fans I've known for a long time," said Johnson, who said he thought about transferring to a school closer to home after Prosser left.

"I remember I was one of the first players he called when he said he was going back to Xavier," Johnson said. "At first, I was feeling kind of betrayed, being brought here from Cincinnati by him. But I realize why he [Prosser] left. I thought about transferring to a school like Miami [Ohio], but I couldn't see myself sitting out for a year."

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Prosser recalled visiting the Loyola campus earlier this fall, when he ran into Williams and Johnson in the Greyhounds' weight room.

"I was choked up," Prosser said. "I'll never forget the look on their faces when Darius' [game-winning] shot went in against Manhattan [in the MAAC tournament title game]. Then, Milton makes four huge plays in 30 seconds, after Tracy Bergan had fouled out.

?3 "The ride those kids gave me was unbelievable."


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