In the midst of laundry piles, mailing letters and setting up practice for the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team in the mid-1990s, a dream was birthed for then student manager Steve Prohm.
Now, almost two decades later, Prohm is living out his dream of being a Division-I head coach.
“Today is a culmination for me of an 18-year-old dream that started at the University of Alabama,” Prohm said in his introductory press conference May 23 after former Head Coach Billy Kennedy took the same position at Texas A&M.
During the 10 months since his tearful first address to the media and Murray State, Prohm has led the Racers through a historic season with a Hollywood feel, including a 23-game winning streak, the last unbeaten team in the nation and going into the Big Dance with the best record in the country at 30-1.
His dream keeps getting better and better.
“This is the dream I had,” Prohm said last week after the No. 12 Racers earned an automatic bid into the Tournament after winning the Ohio Valley Conference Championship. “The only thing left in the dream is to go to New Orleans and win a national championship.”
But even making it to the tournament is a noteworthy accomplishment for the rookie coach who served as an assistant coach under Kennedy for 13 years.
“To be able to coach in the NCAA Tournament, a head coach in the NCAA Tournament is a dream come true in itself,” Prohm, the OVC Coach of the Year, said. “And to coach a great group of guys like we have with this year’s team and these kind of seniors and Isaiah, who’s an All-American, man, the only way to make the dream any better would be to win a national championship or go to the Final Four.”
The sixth seed Racers will face No. 11 seed Colorado State (20-11) at 11:15 a.m. CST today in Louisville, Ky., at the KFC Yum! Center to begin the next step in accomplishing Prohm’s dream.
The dream season began garnering national attention after winning the Great Alaska Shootout over Thanksgiving break, but it was after defeating Atlantic 10 Conference team Dayton in December that people really started talking about the Racers, including Dayton’s head coach.
“First off I just want to give Murray State and their coaching staff a lot of credit,” Dayton Head Coach Archie Miller said after his team lost to Murray State 75-58 Dec. 4. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they had 30 wins at the end of the year and I’d hate to draw them in the NCAA tournament – that’s as tenacious of a team of five or seven guys on defense that I’ve seen in a while, they are physical in all five positions and they played well to the end of every possession.”
Prohm remembers Miller’s words.
“I was reading that article after the game and he said, ‘That team is going to win 28, 29, 30 games,’ and I went ‘Man, he’s out of his mind,’” Prohm said.
Apparently Miller, also a first year head coach, knew what he was talking about.
Murray State has rewritten the history books time and again this season while earning the highest national ranking in program history all under the loving and meticulous leadership of Prohm.
In his first press conference last May, Prohm shared his vision for the coming year(s) of Murray State basketball and now that his first regular season is completed, it becomes apparent that sprinkled throughout his words that day was a flavor of foreshadowing.
“We will play with great energy, enthusiasm and great passion and I will coach the same way,” Prohm said 10 months ago. “We will be tough-minded defensively and we will be disciplined and unselfish offensively.”
The foreshadowing of that sunshine-filled day doesn’t stop there.
“My vision for this program is to take the next step,” Prohm said. “No one thought about Butler being in consecutive Final Fours four years ago, no one in this room could say that. I don’t know how far we can go but I want to try to put ourselves in every area to do that.”
His confidence in the community and program was just as strong during his first encounter with the media as it is now.
“I want to continue to win conference championships, put ourselves in a position in the NCAA Tournament to not just win one game but to win multiple games,” Prohm said last spring. “We have the resources here at Murray State to do that, we have the community support to do that and we have the ability of the players and the ability to recruit those players here to do that.”
Prohm ended his first press conference by encouraging his audience to do three things.
“I want to close with challenging all of you to dream big, to be good to people and to never, ever give up because that’s why I’m standing here today,” Prohm said.
Last week, Prohm addressed those same three issues more in depth.
“You’ve got to dream big,” he said. “Our team wouldn’t be 30-1 if we didn’t dream big. There’s a lot of games we could have shut it down, Saturday, at Tennessee Tech, and UAB, you can go on down the line. Being good to people, that’s just how you should be. That should be in your heart just to be good to people.
“And then never give up, if you look at the path I took, opportunities are there for anybody if you really want to be successful and they’re out there for my players, my staff and for everybody here in Murray – for the 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy, for them to dream what they want to do because I’m no different than they are.”
Athletic Director Allen Ward introduced Prohm as the new head coach in May and said it was his character, integrity and passion that made him the obvious choice for the position. Now, 10 months later, Prohm continues to embody everything the Murray State basketball program is, Ward said.
“Steve has been what I thought he would be; there has been no surprise there,” Ward said last week. “He’s still the same guy and the team sees that and I think more importantly the fans see it. The staff of the department sees it and that just says a lot about who he is – what you see is what you get. He’s an incredibly hard worker, passionate about what he’s doing, passionate about Murray State, loves being here. Everything I saw back then has been played out throughout the season.”
At the end of the Racers’ post-season run, the seniors will graduate as the winningest team in program history and Prohm will be known as one of the greatest coaches in Murray State history.
“Our fans, I hope they realize what they’ve seen,” Ward said. “Sometimes you have to take a couple years and take a step back from it and say ‘Wow,’ because we’re all in the moment right now and it’s remarkable and I thank (the team) for how hard they have worked and everything they’ve done for our program because they have left a lasting stamp on our program.”