The trip was needed.
A trip that allowed Solomon Young to reconnect with his family.
A trip that allowed him to reflect on his life.
A trip he knew was special.
Last year, Solomon and his two sisters decided to give their mother, Tina Solomon, a birthday present.
She’s always talked about driving up the coast from Sacramento, California, his hometown, so her three kids gave her exactly what she wanted. All four of them packed into a car and drove up the coast to enjoy the ocean view and the scenery as a family.
“It was one of the best birthday presents for me,” Tina said. “I was with my family, and we were enjoying time together.”
One of his sisters, Treshenia Solomon, said she loved that drive because there wasn’t fighting or bickering going on. It was just peace and quiet.
From his father dying at a young age to moving in with his relatives to being the star basketball player in Sacramento to an unimaginable recruiting process to battling injuries and weaknesses to becoming a leader of the Iowa State men’s basketball team.
Peace and quiet.
A rare thing in Solomon’s life, something he appreciates when he has the chance.
A swing and a miss
Solomon’s parents, David Allen Young and Tina, divorced before he was born.
He had two sisters on his mom’s side of the family and two sisters and a brother on his dad’s side. Before he started school, Solomon stayed at his mother’s house. When it was time for him to start school, she found an accelerated school near his father’s house and decided that Solomon should stay with his father and attend that school.
Tina described Solomon as a quiet, soft-spoken kid, but also intelligent. She thought this accelerated school would be beneficial for him in the future.
While Solomon attended school, he stayed with his father during the week and his mother on the weekends. During those weekends, Tina worked a full-time job as a bus driver while attending school on her own. It was hard for her to find time and things to do to keep Solomon busy.
Solomon’s father decided to sign him up for weekend activities. He registered Solomon for baseball.
“I thought that was going to be his sport,” Tina said. “He liked playing it, but it wasn’t his sport, and football wasn’t a choice [because I wouldn’t let him], so he went to basketball. Once he went into basketball, he took to that like a fish in water.”
In the beginning of his basketball career, David hardly allowed Tina to be a part of the process. Tina described David as a person who knew it all and excluded her because she would always ask Solomon, “What do you want to do?” and leave the option open to him.
David helped Solomon with the basics of how to play basketball, and that’s when the game became a passion.
Then, the summer before Solomon started seventh grade, his father died. Tina doesn’t know specifically how he died, but she knew he didn’t take good care of himself from a health perspective.
That hit Solomon hard.
“When it happened, it was tough,” Solomon said. “The things he instilled in me before he passed, like always work hard and grades, are important. I know he would want me to do well and not end up like my brother.”
His older brother decided to join a gang when Solomon was young, and Solomon knew he didn’t want to follow that path.
“Solomon was mature for his age and knew that wasn’t the path for him,” Tina said. “He hasn’t talked much about his brother. He’ll always love his brother.”
But Solomon knew he was destined for something greater.
A new father figure
Solomon didn’t just play for his high school; he was also a part of the AAU program in Sacramento. He played for the AAU Yellow Jackets from fourth grade to his freshman year of high school.
“He grew up with the team,” Tina said. “In high school, he had the ability to change AAU teams, and I think he made a good decision.”
George Sousa was head coach of a new AAU team that was forming in Davis, California. He and Solomon met during Solomon’s freshman year in high school at a basketball camp for AAU. Sousa wanted Solomon on his new team because it had all of the elite players from the Sacramento area.
Solomon had been on the Yellow Jackets all his childhood, so changing to a different team would be a hard transition, but after talking to Sousa and seeing what he could do on the team Solomon switched to the Wildcats. Sousa made sure Solomon could shoot from the 3-point line, rebound and go on a fast break, pass to an open shooter and be a physical presence in the paint with the Wildcats.
The relationship Sousa and Solomon created allowed them to trust each other. It also meant more to Solomon than anyone imagined. Not only did Solomon look to Sousa for help in improving his basketball skills, but he also looked to him for guidance in high school.
“I look at coach [George] Sousa as a role model and father figure,” Solomon said. “He’s been there through the ups and downs and has supported me in any decision I’ve made in my life.”
Sousa helped Solomon and his family during his junior year when colleges started recruiting Solomon. Besides Tina, Solomon used Sousa to bounce ideas off of regarding strengths and weaknesses of schools.
When he made the decision to go to Iowa State, Solomon told his family first.
Sousa knew it was a perfect fit.
He knew Iowa State was a team that played a small-ball type of game that relied on the 3-point shot, but Solomon could be a good change of pace. With his size and skills, Solomon could provide balance with his rebounding and physical presence in the paint.
Sousa knew Solomon was going to be a special player for any team that took a chance on him.
A new home
After his father died, Solomon started living with his mother full-time. He had to adjust to his mother’s work schedule because she was gone most days.
After a couple of years with his mom, Solomon finished middle school and had to decide which high school to attend. They all wanted him because of his basketball abilities.
“It was a difficult decision,” Solomon said. “[Sacramento] High was the best place for education and basketball, so that’s what ultimately made my decision.”
In high school, Solomon moved in with his aunt and uncle, Mary and Dennis Woods. The two were retired and had time to pick him up and drop him off at practice and be there for the games. He lived with them during his freshman, sophomore and junior years.
During those three years, Mary and Dennis spoiled Solomon, Tina said. He didn’t learn much about independence, but he was able to focus on basketball and improve his game.
Going into the summer before his senior year, Solomon talked to his mother about the possibility of returning home for his last season. Solomon wanted more independence and to learn how to be on his own before college.
“I told [Solomon] that he can come home, but he’ll be on his own regarding basic daily routines,” Tina said. “He wanted to be on his own, so it was a perfect fit for his last year.”
When he moved back home, Tina and Solomon became closer. Tina had more time off from work, allowing her to see Solomon play in his games and be that number one fan she always wanted to be. They also had more time to talk and understand one another.
And that strengthened bond became essential after Tina got a call from her doctor.
An unbreakable bond
Tina was waiting at the bus station for Solomon in June. They were meeting for lunch when she received the phone call.
She had breast cancer — again.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘Not again,’” Tina said. “I didn’t want to ruin my lunch with Solomon.”
Tina has been dealing with cancer for much of her adult life. She had her first diagnosis of cancer when Solomon was about 4 years old. Her second diagnosis came when Solomon was in middle school and still living with his father most of the time.
This past June was her third diagnosis, and all three had been some form of breast cancer.
When Solomon reached the bus station, he knew something was wrong. That’s when Tina told him the news. They still went out to lunch that day, but their discussion was different.
Solomon went back to Iowa State during those couple of months for summer sessions and to continue working on basketball. He went back to Sacramento in August to check on his mother before heading to a leadership conference with the basketball team.
When Solomon arrived, Tina wasn’t able to walk and needed a helping hand. That’s when Solomon stepped in to help her get back on her feet. He did simple workouts with her, activities like stretching or walking in a pool or around the house. He needed to be with her.
He called coach Steve Prohm and asked if he could miss the leadership conference. He, of course, said yes, and Solomon focused his attention on Tina.
To the cornfields of Iowa
Tina told Solomon that she wanted him to pick a college before his last season of high school basketball. That way it would be more fun to play in his senior season without the stress of picking a new school hanging over his head.
At the beginning of his junior year, he was getting calls from many different schools in the Midwest and West Coast. It was too much for Tina and her family. It became so much that Tina actually gave some of the interest forms and information to Sousa and some family members to sift through.
“We were getting calls constantly,” Tina said. “It was really bad. I couldn’t answer half the calls because there was so much.”
They traveled throughout the country, going to the state of Texas to check out a couple of schools, to Las Vegas, to Washington state and Oregon, and to some of the local schools in California.
But something changed.
Solomon thought if schools were interested in him, they would be asking him to come for a visit. But none of those calls came. Some of his favorite schools, such as Washington State and Oregon State, were growing disinterested while some of the schools lower on his list continued to pursue him.
It wasn’t an ideal situation.
Solomon was saved by T.J. Otzelberger, then an assistant coach with Iowa State who told coach Steve Prohm, who had just been hired to replace Fred Hoiberg, about Solomon.
Otzelberger told Solomon he needed to make a decision, because otherwise he wouldn’t be attending any of his dream schools. He also told Solomon to visit every school he was interested in, then make Iowa State his final visit.
Solomon and Tina found that Iowa State was different from those other schools. Otzelberger didn’t talk about basketball as much as he talked about education. Tina liked that.
“Most of the schools tried to impress Solomon with the team, the gear, the gym, the sport,” Tina said. “Education is my number one thing. Always has been.”
When they visited Iowa State, the first thing they discussed was courses and professors and the daily schedule of being a student-athlete. Then they discussed basketball.
Before they left, Otzelberger told Solomon that he was going to have another prospect come visit unless Solomon committed soon.
Within 24 hours of returning home, Solomon made the decision to go to Iowa State. He called Otzelberger and told him to tell the other prospect to go home, because they had their guy.
“I know I’m going to be a leader this season,” Solomon said. “I just need to continue working hard to show what Iowa State basketball is all about in Ames.”
Prohm wants to see Solomon continue to build his physical presence from last year, while being a threat out on the 3-point line. The ability to have that versatility is key to Solomon’s success.
His sister Treshenia thinks this Iowa State team will win a national championship within the next three years.
“They’ve already won a Big 12 championship and they are continuing to get better,” Treshenia said. “They should be winning a national championship soon.”
As for Solomon, he’s taking his college experience day by day. He’s not thinking too far into the future. And he always remembers where he comes from.
“When I go back to Sacramento, the younger kids know who I am and what I’ve done at Iowa State,” Solomon said. “They look at me as a role model, so I continue to strive not only to be a better basketball player, but a community person too. I’m always representing Sacramento.”