"I knew I was going to go, but I just didn't want to say it," Shorter said.
"As far as I know, he's coming," Smith said yesterday from his home in Mouth of Wilson. "That's what he told me (Wednesday). Brian said he wants to come. He led me to believe he was coming for sure."
Over the last 12 years, Oak Hill has become nationally recognized for accepting talented high school basketball players who have struggled in the classroom and helping them to improve their grades and gain college scholarships.
In June, Shorter made an oral commitment to attend the University of Pittsburgh after the coming school year.
However, grades are a major concern for Shorter. Under a recently instituted NCAA rule introduced as Proposition 48, an incoming student must have a minimum 2.0 grade-point average in 11 core-curriculum courses and a score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test to be eligible for Division I competition as a freshman.
"At Oak Hill, I can raise my average, go to study hall and improve on my SATs," said Shorter.
"Down there, the situation, I think, is better than Gratz. They have study hall, and when you travel, you take your books with you. I need that. Down there, there's not much to do but study. You can't hang out. At Gratz, they tell you you have to study. But by me being around a lot of people, I don't study as much."
Oak Hill, located on an isolated campus in southwest Virginia near the North Carolina line, has an enrollment of between 150 and 180 students. Shorter will be one of two basketball players to receive a full $6,100 scholarship, Smith said.
Smith said life at Oak Hill is very structured. "The kids do not have time to run around," he said. "This environment is conducive to studying."
Although Ellerbee is of the opinion that Shorter could manage quite well academically at Gratz, he agrees that a change of scenery could benefit Shorter.
He described the transfer to Oak Hill as a "trade-off."
"They wouldn't have offered Joe Schmo a scholarship just because," Ellerbee said. "They're offering it because he has a special basketball talent."
"We will get publicity from Brian," Smith said. "We think the publicity is worth what we spend on a scholarship."
Ellerbee said Shorter, whose grade-point average is just under 2.0, is "on target" to graduate. The Gratz coach said Shorter would need at least three C's and two B's in his five core courses to graduate with a 2.0.
"It just might be the best thing for him," Ellerbee said of Shorter's move to Oak Hill. "He needs to have a good academic year, just to have a feel for what it would be like in college."
If Shorter were to find it difficult to adjust to Oak Hill, he wouldn't be the first big-city student to do so. That is not surprising, considering that ''downtown" Mouth of Wilson, about a mile from the Oak Hill campus, consists of a car dealership, a post office and a grocery store. Period.
"I told Brian that if he comes here he has to be dedicated to staying here," said Smith. "I expect him to be homesick, but I told him I expect him to be mature enough to handle it."
Shorter, who has not visited Oak Hill, said he welcomes the prospect of change.
"I can picture it in my mind," he said. "I've just got to adjust. It'll probably take about a month. But I wanted to get away for a while. This will get me ready for college, being away like that."
"I think he's got his mind set to do it and succeed and show everyone he can succeed," Smith said.
Shorter averaged 15.5 points a game as a freshman, then 21 points and 15 rebounds as a sophomore. Last season, he averaged 31.7 points, 15.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in leading Gratz to a 24-4 record and a berth in the Public League semifinals.
With one season remaining and 1,869 points in the books, Shorter seemed destined to overtake Wilt Chamberlain (2,252) and become the city's all-time scholastic scoring leader. Based on his average of last year, Shorter would have required a little more than 12 games to surpass Chamberlain.
"That's not going to bother me," Shorter said, "because everybody in the city knows I could break the record."
Gratz, which would have been regarded as a clear favorite to win the league title if it had Shorter playing center, must do without him one year ahead of schedule. It is not a comforting proposition for Ellerbee, who has directed Gratz to a 68-15 record over the last three seasons.
"I'll probably never have another Brian Shorter," said Ellerbee. "I'll probably never have another player of his magnitude again. But my mortgage payment is going to be the same. If he's not here in September, there's nothing I can do about it.
"I don't have any negative feelings. I wish him the best. I hope he has a fantastic academic year and a fantastic basketball season. When I say my prayers, I'm going to say a prayer for Brian."
Oak Hill has been discussed as a possible entry in the Pepsi-Cola Tournament, scheduled for Dec. 20-21 at Temple's McGonigle Hall. Tournament director Sonny Hill said yesterday that Shorter's presence would make Oak Hill an appealing draw.