Living the dream

Kerry Prather remembers his son Robbie hanging around the gym at Franklin College before he was out of diapers.

“He came to practice all the time,” said the elder Prather, the Grizzlies’ head coach since 1983. “He had his little game going on the side court while we were practicing. Down to the level of — I remember this vividly — of me still holding bottle, blankie. He was at that stage when he was running around the gym, and I would be stuck holding that stuff.”

Years later, Robbie Prather is still running around the Spurlock Center — only now, he’s doing so in a Franklin uniform. Robbie is now a senior guard for his father’s Grizzlies, a three-year captain who ranks third on the team in scoring.

For many a coach’s son, such endings are predestined. But for Robbie, it wasn’t always a sure thing. After his sophomore season on the junior varsity at Roncalli High School, he wasn’t certain if he was going to stick with basketball at all.

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“I just got caught in the middle ground of ‘I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to play for a program of this caliber,'” Robbie said of his time with the Rebels.

The younger Prather admits to coming home from open gyms and crying out of frustration — but those tears were never magnified by anything that was said at home.

“My stance with him and our talks centered around the fact, ‘As long as you enjoy it, please do it — but don’t do it for Dad and me,’ ” said Robbie’s mother, Cindy Prather.

His father’s influence, Robbie said, also redirected his focus. Since that point, he has been in the gym working on his game every day. He went from a bit player on the Roncalli varsity as a junior to a starter as a senior, and he’s only continued to trend upward.

Despite battling asthma all the way through, Robbie has managed to become more productive on the court with each passing season, and he’s saving his best for last. After scoring 3.8 points a game during his two-year varsity career at Roncalli, Robbie Prather is averaging 13.8 points as a senior at Franklin. He never scored more than 12 in any high school game.

Kerry Prather knew his son was just scratching the surface of how good he could be when he was in high school — and since that’s a quality he looks for in all of his Franklin prospects, it only made sense that he made Robbie the first member of his 2013 recruiting class.

“Like every successful player we’ve ever had, he’s a much better college player than he was a high school player,” the coach explained. “The same is true of (Franklin senior guard) Aaron Mann. The same is true of (senior forward) Brett McCory.

“There were certain things I could see about his play that fit perfectly into our system and our style of play.”

Have game, will travel

That Kerry Prather was actually able to see most of his son’s high school games required a great deal of dedication on his part — and cooperation from a lot of other people.

Numerous opposing coaches, especially within the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, had to be willing to move tipoff times around to accommodate Kerry’s desire to see his son in action.

Years later, both coach and player remain appreciative.

“I was fortunate enough to have colleagues at our level who would reschedule game times and the order of games,” Kerry Prather said, “so that I could leave a game in Bluffton, Indiana, that should have been played at 4 o’clock but was played at 2 o’clock and jump in the car and get back to Roncalli in time to watch one of his games.”

One night in particular stands out in Robbie’s mind.

“As warmups were going on, I look up in the stands, and I just see my mom,” he recalled, “and I was like, ‘Oh, well hopefully my dad’s team won; I’m sure I’ll see him after the game.’ And then when we go through starting lineups and everything, I walk out on the court for tip and look down at the end of the gym, and I see him, full sportcoat and everything from the game.”

Robbie doesn’t remember who Roncalli was playing that evening or who Franklin had faced earlier in the day, but he still considers that one of his favorite basketball memories.

When the Grizzlies were on the road, Robbie frequently returned the favor by scrambling to games after his practices. The key cog in that whole operation was Cindy Prather, who also works full-time as Franklin College’s director of elementary education.

“During that period of time, Mom did all the heavy lifting,” Kerry Prather said of his wife. “(Robbie) would practice until 5:30 at Roncalli, she’d be outside the front door, he’d jump in the car and they’d drive to Mount St. Joe’s to make it, as close as they could get, to a 7:30 tipoff.”

Life is much, much easier for Cindy Prather now with both husband and son on the same team, but she still cherishes all of the time she and Robbie had together during those road trips over the years.

“We had many, many good conversations and many, many special mother and son moments as far as those long drives were concerned,” Cindy noted. “And I’ll tell you, we broke down lots of basketball.”

The entire family, including Robbie’s older sister Katie, has been in on the roundball experience — most years, the Prathers travel together to the NCAA Division I Final Four after Franklin’s Division III season is over.

“This basketball thing is for all of us at our house,” Cindy Prather said.

All grown up

The games are much more enjoyable for all of the Prathers now — not only because of reduced travel time and because father and son are in the fourth and final year of a rewarding shared experience but because Robbie has blossomed so much since high school.

The Grizzlies are also righting the ship as a program after a tough 4-23 season a year ago, and Kerry Prather credits his son’s influence in the locker room as a major reason for the turnaround. In addition to his work ethic, Robbie Prather often serves as a translator between his father and his teammates, and he’s been able to pass his knowledge of Franklin’s rich basketball history on to the other players as well.

“That’s been a big part of bringing us back to a point where we feel good about things,” the coach said of his son’s off-the-court contributions.

So it would make perfect sense for Robbie Prather to enter the coaching profession after he graduates, right?

Perhaps, but that’s not where he’s headed — at least not yet. Robbie plans to enroll in law school next fall, although he’s not sure yet exactly where he’ll do that.

Dad is just fine with that decision.

“My goal is that he become not just an attorney but a very wealthy attorney,” Kerry Prather said with a smile, “so that when it’s time to put me in a nursing home — and his mother — he can pick out a really, really nice place for us.”

Robbie Prather isn’t ruling out following in his father’s footsteps one day, but whether he chooses the court over the courtroom or not, his love for basketball isn’t going to fade.

“I will always have an undying passion for the game,” he said.

Doesn’t his mother know it. One year, she recalls, Robbie got his first sportcoat for Easter.

“Because my husband always wore a sportcoat to the games,” Cindy Prather said, “Robbie associated — he called it, the ‘Daddy coat,’ and when he would be playing around the house, he would want his ‘Daddy coat,’ and then he would put that on, and he would imitate my husband talking to the boys.”

Don’t be surprised if he gets that desire again someday.

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Robbie Prather’s year-by-year statistics at Roncalli and at Franklin College:





Franklin College






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