Pat Kelsey's inspiration to return

He was wearing his faded yellow shorts, the ones he wore every day for his run around the track, the jog his assistants jokingly called his Babe Ruth home run trot.

Skip Prosser's shirt was torn from the paramedics' frantic efforts to revive him, and his face, that's the part Pat Kelsey can't forget.

Prosser's face was blue the last time Kelsey saw it.
"It sounds so awful, so morbid, but I can't forget it,'' Kelsey said. "I see it in my sleep.''

That was July 26, 2007, the awful day that the college basketball world stood still, when the affable and popular Prosser died of a heart attack.

Coaches in Las Vegas and Orlando either left the bleachers where they were watching recruits or sat quietly, barely talking above a whisper.
It's also the day that changed Kelsey's life profoundly, forever, and now he can say, finally, for the better.

On Thursday, Kelsey will officially be introduced as the new head coach at Winthrop. It's the sort of press conference that up until a year ago, many figured Kelsey, then a hotshot top assistant at Xavier, was destined for.

It's the sort of press conference that up until a few months ago, Kelsey thought he'd never participate in.
"When I walked away, I thought it was for good,'' said Kelsey, who abruptly quit Xavier in 2011. "In my mind, I was walking away and I meant it.''

What drew him back is both simple and complex. He missed it; that's the easy explanation.

But missing it and wanting it are not the same. What made Kelsey want the job is what made him want coaching in the first place:
Skip Prosser.

The two first met in 1995. Kelsey was on scholarship at Wyoming, but the Cincinnati kid missed Cincinnati. He grew up attending basketball camp at Xavier. His dad played there and Kelsey decided to ask Prosser if there was any room for him on the team. Prosser didn't have a scholarship but told him to stop by for a practice.

Kelsey did just that, visiting the Musketeers on their first practice after the holiday break. He took a seat way up in the old fieldhouse and watched Prosser run his team. At the end of practice, a manager came up and invited Kelsey down on the court.
"He had everyone put their hands in for the 1-2-3 Xavier, and right before, he stopped, moved a pile of bodies out of the way and invited me in,'' Kelsey said. "Then he said, 'OK, our team's complete now.' From that point on, if he asked me to run through 10 walls, I would have run through 15.''

Kelsey would go on to become Prosser's team captain and, after three years of coaching high school ball, joined Prosser as a director of basketball operations at Wake Forest.
"He was so different, such a refreshing change to the norm,'' Kelsey said. "He thought of himself as a teacher first. He'd quote [Ralph Waldo] Emerson. The court was just his classroom. He was who I wanted to be.''

That feeling only grew over time, as Kelsey spent hours on the road recruiting with Prosser, where they passed the time talking about anything but basketball. By 2007, Kelsey was a full-time assistant, part of the staff that was bringing the No. 1 recruiting class to Wake Forest.

That summer, Kelsey's wife, Lisa, was pregnant with their first child, and Prosser insisted Kelsey stay home and off the road while he babysat the recruits, flying back and forth between Las Vegas and Orlando.
"I dropped him off at the curb at the airport,'' Kelsey said. "The last thing he said to me was, 'To the hunt,' and he flew to Orlando.''

Days later Prosser returned to campus to give the closing talk at his camp.

Kelsey arrived at work that morning, and before he could enter the building a woman grabbed him by both shoulders and screamed, "Where is Mr. Prosser?"

To this day, Kelsey has no idea who the woman was. He just remembers dropping his bag and rushing to the basketball offices.

There, he got a glimpse of paramedics using paddles on Prosser before being ushered into Jeff Battle's office.

I think if he were here, he'd quote Shakespeare: 'To thine own self be true.' Be true to yourself. Follow your heart, and I've realized the best way to honor him is by doing what he taught me to do.

-- Pat Kelsey on Skip Prosser

In tears and terrified, he and Battle opened the door after a few minutes just as they were taking Prosser out on a stretcher.
"They're taking him out the main way, but the ambulance is on the side and I'm screaming that it's the wrong way, but no one is listening,'' Kelsey said. "I run down the steps and get in the ambulance. I start hitting buttons, the siren goes off, I just want to move it. Finally one of them says that I needed to calm down. Basically they were telling me it was too late.''

Weeks later, after giving a moving eulogy at Prosser's funeral, Kelsey knew he wanted out of coaching. His daughter, Ruthie, had been born and his mentor had died.

Instead he hung on, remaining at Wake Forest until 2009, when he signed on with his alma mater and Chris Mack at Xavier.
"It was a slow spiral or a trickle,'' Kelsey said. "I had coaching opportunities but I was mush inside. I realized I can't lead a program if I'm not right. I had to walk away.''

In his year off, Kelsey went through therapy, worked with a company running professional sports camps and hunkered down with his young family.
Eventually he flipped on a game on television. One became two and two became an insatiable thirst. He asked in at high school practices, watched more games and slowly realized that walking away wasn't the answer.

With the blessing of his wife, Kelsey decided to let the word out that he wanted back into coaching.

Winthrop jumped at the chance to hire him.

And so Kelsey is back inside the same fold but as a different person. He believes his year off has made him better prepared, not worse, and that in coming back he has found the true meaning of Skip Prosser's influence.

"I think if he were here, he'd quote Shakespeare -- 'To thine own self be true,''' Kelsey said. "Be true to yourself. Follow your heart, and I've realized the best way to honor him is by doing what he taught me to do.''