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Not to mention another coach. Smith, 31, is the latest in the whirr of Warrior chiefs; there have been six in the past decade. Even before Davis's departure in 1985 was officially announced, the school got 25 calls from high school coaches and college assistants interested in the Oak Hill opening.
"Smitty's the most caring, the most down-to-earth of the coaches we've had," says Cornett. "He's one of the family. He works in the system. He does his job as a teacher first." Behind a stark, green-eyed gaze, Smith is acutely aware of the responsibilities of his position: accepting players who need help but who aren't helpless; distinguishing needy players from needier ones for the $30,000 he is budgeted anually for scholarships; glad-handing recruiters without promising them anything; supporting teenagers living far from home without overindulging them; instilling unselfishness in a flock of young stars. "I don't want to roll into gyms and have people say, 'Here come the renegades,' " Smith says.
"The emphasis was to build the program," Cornett says. "Now it's to maintain it."
Once the school used basketball as a calling card; now Oak Hill is, if not a household word, a playground one. After asphalt gods like Calvin Duncan (VCU), Glenn Mayers (Wake Forest), Rodney Strickland (DePaul) and Mike Jones (Auburn) headed to the Mouth, others followed. Now, Smith swears, recruiting is a thing of the past. "I can sit here and answer my phone in the summer, and we'll have a real good team in the fall," he says, sitting at the desk in his brick-walled office. Indeed, much of his life is spent at a 90-degree angle, his head twisted toward the speaker phone on his left, answering calls from aspiring players and inquiring college coaches. It's not unusual for the 45-minute cassette in his answering machine to fill up in a day.
The prep school player has several advantages over his public school counterpart. He's getting that first year of a) being away from home, b) sharing the ball and c) learning to spend time on the bench. He's already facing college-level competition and playing the position he'll probably play in college. College coaches find schools like Oak Hill to their benefit, too. Although a recruiter may lose a particular player, he's likely to find another on display at the same time. For that reason, such schools are, in the words of one college assistant, "an easy recruit." The rickety bleachers in Turner are often top-heavy with hungry scouts on one-stop shopping missions.
While some college coaches encourage players to spend a year or two at a prep school, others view it as a personal risk. Says Louisville's Denny Crum, "The problem is, if you send a kid to one of these schools, you have no guarantee you're going to get him back."
North Carolina coach Dean Smith takes another view. "When I was an assistant at the Air Force Academy way back in the '50s, high school graduates went to prep schools for a year to qualify for the Ivys and the [service] academies," he says. "Another year of education didn't hurt anybody."
Oak Hill engages in no interscholastic sports other than basketball; it dropped baseball in the mid-'70s. The school's second most competitive endeavor may be rooting for its first. The cheerleading squad—eight boys, eight girls—represents 8% of the student body. Because of the prestige and money to be gained on the road, home games are infrequent, and students are required to attend. While the kids affect an ACC rowdiness, the brass sits on hardbacked chairs by the gym door, making sure things don't get out of hand.
Says president Patton, "We wouldn't have basketball if we didn't have academics. And we wouldn't have academics if we didn't have structure." No one can say whether Oak Hill will keep sports in perspective; it has lapsed in the past. But for now the blueprint for basketball is simple: bring in good players, schedule good teams, and turn out good students.
Who can complain? "The basketball players are really looked up to here," says senior cheerleader Wendy Nester. "They're the ones that put us on the map."