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Winthrop basketball assistant coach lands head job

The first departure from the Winthrop men's basketball coaching staff this 2018 offseason: associate head coach Mark Prosser.

The six-year Winthrop assistant was named Western Carolina's new head coach during a press conference at the school on March 27, 2018.

"We needed someone that's been a part of programs that have been built, from the ground up," said Western Carolina athletic director Randy Eaton. "It was also important for us to find someone who understood that 'student' will always come before 'athlete.'"

Eaton said he and Western Carolina didn't just get "a guy." They got "the guy."

"It really turned out to be an unbelievably perfect situation for me and my family," Prosser said, after Eaton formally introduced him at the press conference.

Prosser, whose father Skip was a highly successful head coach at Xavier and Wake Forest before passing away suddenly in 2007.

"We're gonna do everything we can not to ruin the good name he's made in the state of North Carolina," Prosser joked.

Prosser was the head coach at Brevard College for a year before joining Kelsey at Winthrop in 2012. Before that, he was an assistant at Bucknell and Wofford (in two different stints). Prosser helped Bucknell, Wofford and Winthrop to NCAA Tournament appearances during his stops at each school.

"Nobody knows his value and talents more than I do because he was side by side with me the last six years," said Kelsey. "We have a very personal and close relationship. It's been special to have Mark by my side through this journey. I really owe a lot to Mark."

It was no secret that Prosser was looking for a head coaching job. He had been involved in head coaching searches at Dartmouth and Furman in the past few years and was ready to toss his name into consideration for the Winthrop job when it appeared Kelsey was headed to UMass last year, before Kelsey changed his mind and returned to Winthrop.

Kelsey and Prosser were a successful pair at Winthrop in part because of the ways in which their personalities were opposite. Kelsey was more vocal during practices, more emotive, while Prosser would hang back with the players and work and communicate with them individually. They were almost perfect foils in a coaching sense.

"Mark has a great disposition about him," said Kelsey. "The ceiling could absolutely be caving in and Mark could find the silver lining. You need that as a head coach."

Prosser's new job represents a considerable challenge. Western Carolina, located in Cullowhee, N.C. and a member of the Southern Conference, has posted winning seasons in 11 of its 42 men's basketball seasons at the Division I level. Playing in the very strong SoCon hasn't helped.

The Western Carolina gig opened when 13-year head coach Larry Hunter resigned in early March. The Catamounts have finished six of the last seven seasons with losing records. Hunter guided the program to its only Division I 20-win season in 2009-10.

The Catamounts graduate two full-time starters and one part-time starter but return most of their top scorers, including a five-man sophomore class, from this year's 13-19 team.

Prosser, who played in college at Marist, had a big hand in Winthrop's scoring success as the coaching staff's offensive-minded assistant. The Eagles finished the last three seasons in the KenPom top-50 in pace and top-150 in offensive efficiency. They were arguably the best all-around offensive team in the Big South for three straight years. Western Carolina, meanwhile, struggled greatly scoring the ball the last two seasons, finishing in the bottom 10 percent of teams in the country in offensive efficiency.

Prosser knows the Southern Conference well from his time coaching in the league with Wofford and against its teams numerous times with Winthrop. Western Carolina has the smallest basketball budget in the league at just over $1 million per year, and has played in the NCAA Tournament once, in 1996.

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