Walter Hill thought playing football at the University of Georgia was going to be his ticket to happiness out of high school, but he found out this year that the cozy environment of playing basketball at the much smaller Shorter University in Rome could become just as fulfilling.
And Hawks men's basketball coach Chad Warner has been happy to watch it all unfold.
"He's as talented as I've coached at any level and the kind of player that will be able to take our program to the next level," said Warner, who has previously been a head coach at Hampden-Sydney College and William & Mary University. "Walter has the ability to be as good as he wants to be."
In his first season at Shorter, Hill, an East Hall High graduate, was named an NAIA All-American after averaging 19 points and eight rebounds per game, including scoring 28 against Truett-McConnell in the regular season finale.
"I really like it here at Shorter," said Hill, a rising junior. "They have a great system and a great environment."
So one might ask, how did Hill go from playing Southeastern Conference football to NAIA basketball at Shorter?
Well, first he secured a release from his football scholarship after taking a redshirt season with the Bulldogs.
Even though he was two years removed from basketball before leaving Georgia, there were still plenty of options on the table since he earned All-State honors in basketball and was ranked the 12th best player in the state in 2007.
Hill knew his best connections were right at home at East Hall and with basketball coach Joe Dix. The Vikings' coach landed Hill a tryout with University of Minnesota assistant coach Ron Jirsa, a former head coach at Georgia.
From there, Jirsa patched Hill through with coaches at Southwestern Illinois College, a junior college in Belleville, Illinois.
Playing at the junior college level was a blessing for Hill because it gave him a chance to shake off the rust of not playing basketball competitively for two years.
He averaged 15 points and seven boards a game at Southwest Illinois before leaving after one season.
This year with Shorter (23-8), Dix witnessed his big game against Truett-McConnell College, where another former player, Dedric Ware, played with the Bears.
"I always felt like basketball was more what Walter wanted to do in the first place, so I'm happy for him," Dix said. "He's certainly putting together a great career."
Warner probably knew all along that Shorter had an edge in recruiting Hill to his program. His brother Jerrenda Wheeler, also an East Hall graduate, and Johnson graduate Marquise Wright were both already playing at Shorter and able to put in a positive word for the program.
Shorter's coach said he was already familiar with Hill's name from his high school career, and his ears perked up when he found out he was interested in coming to Shorter.
"Walter's the kind of player that can create easy baskets and has a great touch," Warner said.
As the season developed, Warner found out Hill was just as key in the clutch.
Not only was he crucial in helping Shorter shake off its first loss of the year with a win against Belhaven, but he also found that the Hawks could feed Hill the ball late and with the game on the line.
Against Lee University and trailing by six with only a couple minutes to play, Warner decided the best option was to keep the ball in Hill's hands.
It paid off.
Not only did he knock down five consecutive 3-pointers late, but he also hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to win it.
"They got me the ball on a play designed to get me the open shot, and luckily I drained it," Hill said.
Warner says that having a player like Hill on his roster can only help bring attention to his program, especially during an awaited decision about a move to the Division-II level.
The decision on whether the move has been approved will come Monday, and if accepted, they have an offer on the table to join the Gulf South Conference.
"The thing I'm most proud of with Walter is his maturity," Warner said. "That's what will matter most in life and I've seen that side of him flourish."