Skip Prosser is a sore loser, and proud of it.
The Xavier basketball coach hardly slept after his Musketeers lost at Dayton Tuesday night. He couldn't eat. Prosser tastes defeat the way George Bush does broccoli - rarely, reluctantly and with a look of intense loathing.
''I'm not pleasant to be around,'' he said. ''Every time I woke up the other night - which was a lot - a cold chill would pass through me. My first thought was: 'We lost.'''
Losing has been a novelty of late for the Musketeers, ranked 12th nationally entering today's game at Fordham, but it still has its sting. Skip Prosser would have it no other way. He is a coach who has never accepted the law of averages, or the premise that perfection is unattainable. He looks at his 10-1 record and broods on the blemish.
''When mom said, 'Honey, you can't win them all,' my father said, 'It doesn't say that in the rule book,''' Prosser said. ''I haven't seen a rule book yet that says you can't. So that's our goal.''
In this, Prosser is not unlike many of his college basketball contemporaries. Certainly Bob Huggins does not take losing lightly, and there is a basketball coach in Bloomington who has been known to fling furniture when the tide of events turns against him.
Tightest of the uptight
Yet Skip Prosser takes his pain to another plateau. When Pete Gillen ran the basketball program on Victory Parkway, he often found himself consoling his top assistant following defeats. Gillen is eminently uptight, but compared to Prosser he is Jim Carrey.
''I coached with Skip in high school,'' said Dino Gaudio, the former Xavier assistant who now coaches at Army. ''In '84, we might have lost six or seven games, and it got to the point where I was concerned about how hard he was taking it. We lost one game, and it was a road game, and we had a long drive back to the gym. Skip was just seething on the bus. He was furious. And those kids were just as quiet as church mice.''
When the bus finally pulled into the school's parking lot, the players' parents were already parked outside the gym. Prosser ordered his team inside.
''I've never heard anybody yell at kids for an hour, and he yelled at them for an hour,'' Gaudio said. ''Those parents were out there waiting in the cars, and it didn't matter. He wanted to make sure those kids understood what losing was all about.''
Very little has changed since Prosser left Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, W. Va., for Xavier. When the Muskies fell to Dayton Tuesday night, former XU player J.D. Barnett told his wife he pitied the players.
''And he,'' Prosser pointed out, ''only knew me as an assistant.''
''He just has a different frame of mind when we've lost,'' XU guard Gary Lumpkin said. ''He's tougher in practice. He pushes us harder. He yells a whole lot more. You can tell. The little things he might not catch when we win - if we lose, all of a sudden it's a big deal.''
Hey! It's not Chinese
Prosser is careful not to curse, and even his lectures can be light on the ear. He asked his players Thursday if he were speaking in Chinese because no one seemed to be listening. He has also stopped practice to take polls.
In an attempt to break Lumpkin of the unselfish but troubling tendency to pass up open shots, Prosser recently asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know if any of the players would object to Lumpkin launching from a specific spot. He wanted Lumpkin to know how much his teammates trusted and depended on him.
''I would like to coach and teach well enough that I could sit back and just watch the whole game,'' Prosser said. ''I would love to never have to call timeout or call a play. As situations came up, our players would just react. They'd all get 100 on the test. To me, that would be the ultimate game to coach.''
Skip Prosser specializes in impossible dreams. When he started coaching, a sloppy win would hit him ''almost as hard as a loss.'' He used to think he was cheating the game somehow if his players were less than perfect. He still thinks he can win them all.
''When you hit the wall,'' he said, ''you've just got to figure out a way to get through the wall.''