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Taking charge: SU hires Pryor to elevate program

Rob Pryor speaks
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Rob Pryor speaks during his introductory news conference as Shenandoah University's new men's basketball coach on Wednesday in Winchester. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Rob Pryor was introduced
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Rob Pryor was introduced as Shenandoah University's new men's basketball coach. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Jeremy Stafford - jstafford@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons asked the Hornets basketball team to join her on stage during a Wednesday press conference in the Margaret Byrd Stimpson Auditorium in Halpin-Harrison Hall.

There weren't many Hornets to speak of: Five members of the 2010-11 SU basketball team are scheduled to graduate this spring, and so they didn't join the team at the front of the auditorium. Still, Fitzsimmons wanted what was left of the team with her in front of a pale white Shenandoah Hornets backdrop. She wanted the bright auditorium lights to beam down on them all.

They had a new coach to welcome.

The bantam team filed on stage. Dominic Chappell held up a maroon Shenandoah University basketball jersey and smiled. And former United States Air Force Academy assistant basketball coach Rob Pryor was announced as the Hornets' new full-time head basketball coach.

The Hornets clapped in front of the pale backdrop. They hadn't known Pryor long, but they seemed genuinely excited about the hire.

"We were all pretty excited," Shenandoah forward Justin Long said. "We had a lot of good candidates, it was pretty dead-even. But we're pretty excited about the choice, we're excited about seeing how next year will go."

It's funny: When former SU basketball coach Rob Harris resigned in February, Shenandoah Athletic Director Wayne Edwards didn't necessarily hope to find a replacement coach with NCAA Division I experience. He wasn't sure how such a coach would relate to a Division-III atmosphere.

Edwards, a former athletic director at Towson University, knew as well as anyone that Shenandoah basketball probably required a coach familiar with the fickle process of D-III recruiting.

Yet Pryor seemed a perfect fit.

"It's always good to get the person who is your first choice, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't," Edwards said. "Obviously we don't offer all the amenities of the Air Force Academy. Shingleton Gym doesn't compete with Falcon Arena, I can tell you that.

"But I think he's excited about being a part of really developing something here, both from a basketball standpoint and from a facilities standpoint."

Which is why, of the 250-plus candidates Edwards sifted through, it was Pryor, who played two years of junior varsity basketball at the Air Force Academy, and spent five seasons there as an assistant coach, who landed the position.

Pryor also spent a year as an assistant coach at Siena College in New York, and was the head coach for the Air Force Academy's Prep School team.

But more important than his deep coaching resume is his personal resume: He's a family man. He made that perfectly clear during a recent visit Shenandoah, when interviewed for the basketball position, when Pryor and Fitzsimmons went to an SU baseball game. Fitzsimmons brought her two sons, and she sat in the stands with the rest of the Shenandoah fans.

Not many university presidents do that. Pryor had never seen anything like it. He'd never seen such a family atmosphere on a college campus.

"I think the biggest thing for me as a coach -- coaching something I'm passionate about -- I'm also very passionate about my family," Pryor said. "I wanted to find a place that we could go and fit in, and continue our growth as a family."

Following his visit, Pryor left Edwards a note: If Edwards offered him the job, he would take it.

And he did.

But now comes the hard part. Or the easy part. Depending on how you look at it.

Although college basketball's national signing day is long past, Pryor said he's not behind on recruiting.

"I think it makes it a little easier, ironically," Pryor said. "You get some kids that are high-level players that get overlooked, and it happens every year.

"They can come here and play for us and have tremendous careers."

Recruiting, after all, is Pryor's specialty. Remember: He recruited players to a school which requires its graduates to serve five years in the Air Force -- and he did it during war time.

"Any good recruiter has to be a guy that can look at a young man and project him down the road," Air Force Academy head coach Jeff Reynolds said. "[Pryor] has a great ability to build a solid foundation and relationship with not only the player, but the family of the player.

"He's done that here for us, he's done it at Siena, and I'm sure he'll do it now as the head coach at Shenandoah."

Pryor has two other recruiting advantages: He understands the importance of recruiting the Frederick County area -- a factor Edwards said is integral to the building of Shenandoah's local reputation -- and he's from the talent-rich Hampton Roads area.

But he's still got a job ahead of him. With the departure of seniors Kevin Kline and Mitch Dudley, Pryor lacks a dominant rebounder. With Chris Christensen also leaving, Long represents Pryor's only deeply experienced big man.

Pryor wants Shenandoah's offense to be well-rounded, and to feature five or so players scoring 10 or so points -- as the Air Force Academy's did.

He also said he aims to shore up Shenandoah's defense, which allowed other teams to shoot 45 percent from the floor. Pryor would like that number to dip under 40 percent.

"I think every college basketball job is hard, and has its own challenges, and this is certainly no different," Pryor said. "But I think we have a good core group in place, guys who want to be good, guys who are hungry, and I think with those guys combined with the guys that we're going to bring in from a recruiting standpoint, hopefully we'll have the chance to be successful sooner rather than later."

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