SHELTON - Shelton High boys’ basketball coach Brian Gardiner understands why rising seniors Brian Belade will be playing at Fork Union Military (Va.) and that Melvin Kolenovic will be taking the court for Bridgton Academy in Maine this coming season.

“The plan was for both were to play at Shelton this year,” Gardiner said. “Melvin spoke with me and Brian and I have been in constant communication. They had a lot of things going for them coming back to play.”

Belade, a 6-foot-3 point guard, and Kolenovic, a 6-foor-8 center, were each getting looks from Division II, Division III and some Division I teams. The plan, according to Gardiner, was if they didn’t like what was offered, they would post-grad a year next season.

“The uncertainty over COVID-19, well there was a lot of talk if we would even have a season or not,” Gardiner said. “That made them reconsider. They were afraid they may have to go a senior year without basketball.”

Kolenovic left for Bridgton Academy at the end of August. BA competes in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference. As a junior for Shelton, he had doubled his sophomore average to 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. He blocked 3.5 shots a game.

“Brian went back and forth the last 3 weeks,” Gardiner said. “He just committed to Fork Union on Friday. I talked with (Shelton principal) Kathy Riddle and it is her understanding that he is already there in the barracks.”

Belade averaged 18.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in earning second-team All-SCC honors. Fork Union runs from the 7th to 12th grade and hosts a one-year postgraduate program. It is a Division I member of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association.

“It didn’t catch me off guard by any means,” Gardiner said of the decisions. “It was a very difficult decision for Brian. He is a Shelton kid and we had high expectations for this upcoming season. This virus has really thrown a wrinkle into things.”

Coronavirus first impacted the program last March.

“It was a very difficult afternoon,” Gardiner remembers. “We started off prepping for our state game with Ledyard. We had won the day before (March 9). We were all set, then about midway through school - well it was incredibly fast it seemed like 20 minutes - and everything fell apart.

“After school we met as a team and there were a bunch of sad teenagers, I’ll tell you that. They were really focused on the Mohegan Sun (state finals). There are no guarantees obviously, but I think we had a good chance (17-4) and the players certainly wanted a shot at it.” Twitter: @blox354