Ernie Prudente lived his life by a simple game plan.

"My father said, 'Always do something you like, so you never have to go to work,' " he recalled yesterday. "I coached for, like, 45 years. And every year, you get older. But new kids keep coming in, and that keeps you young. Through the years, it was wonderful . . .

"I remember coaching the varsity and JV at one time. I was happy to have a job. If you had a job in those days, you never got fired."

Prudente was inducted into the Philadelphia Area Small-College Basketball Association Hall of Fame at a luncheon at the University of the Sciences. He became the winningest coach at Haverford from 1957-69, then became the second-winningest coach in 12 more seasons at Swarthmore.

A three-sport standout at Haverford High and Friends' Central Prep, he played football and basketball at Penn. He is also the most successful baseball coach in Swarthmore history.

"As [another coach] once said, I used the same talk year after year," Prudente said. "It worked best when my players were better than the other team's players."

In attendance were two other Hall of Fame coaches, C. Alan Rowe (Widener) and Bobby Morgan (Sciences).

"Ernie's legacy is what every one of us hopes we have," Swarthmore coach Lee Wimberly said. "He's living the experience. When people know you and like you, that's good. When they respect you, that's even better."

Prudente is about to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary to Matilda, his "sidekick."

"Coaches' wives are the first ones to go to heaven," he said. "We're a lot to put up with. Nothing's changed [since I coached]. We're a bunch of tigers. Everyone wants to win. We're all the same."

Some, of course, continue to exceed the learning curve. *