Photo by Hannah Olson/Iowa State Daily
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A Gentle Giant

Solomon Young's journey through a life in basketball

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.

Solomon Young grew up in the Sacramento, California, and started his sports career in baseball. Soon, he realized basketball was his true passion.
Photo by Chris Jorgensen/Iowa State Daily

A swing and a miss

Solomon’s parents, David Allen Young and Tina, were never married, but lived in separate places. 

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, working 10-14 hours a day. It was hard for her to find time and things to do to keep Solomon busy.

Solomon Young was first introduced to baseball before he found his passion for basketball at a young age.
Photo by Hector Nevejas

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.”

David and Tina had different types of personalities, but the same goal in mind. That goal was to make Solomon the best basketball player he could be in the future. 

Tina described David as a one way type personality where he would have Solomon focus on what he thought was the best decision for him. On the other hand, Tina was the type of person that offered options to Solomon and letting him decide on what he wanted to do in his career. 

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 the death 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 got into the wrong crowd 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.

Iowa State freshman Solomon Young looks up at the hoop during their game against Drake as part of the HyVee Classic in Des Moines Dec. 17. The Cyclones would go on to defeat the Bulldogs 97-80.
Photo by Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

A new direction 

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.

Solomon Young played on one particular AAU basketball team, the Yellow Jackets, the majority of his childhood. Once in high school, he made the hard decision to switch AAU teams and play for the Wildcats.
Photo by Tina Solomon

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,” 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.

Then Sousa.

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, Solomon was able to focus on basketball and improve his game. After those three years, Solomon had made his decision to play at Iowa State and knew he needed independence leading into college. He decided to go back home with Tina because she had more free time from her job and was able to watch his games and follow the footsteps of Mary and Dennis. 

Solomon and Tina was grateful for everything his aunt and uncle did during those three years, but Solomon knew it was time to go home. 

Solomon Young played basketball at Sacramento High School, but lived with his aunt and uncle throughout the majority of his high school career.
Photo by Tina Solomon

“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.

Solomon Young and his mother, Tina Solomon, became really close during his senior year of high school. She helped Solomon in the recruiting process.
Photo by Tina Solomon

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.

Throughout that week, they proceeded to work out every day. They made small steps, but by the time he left, Tina was able to squat and walk up and down her steps.

“Those couple of weeks really meant a lot to me, and I know they meant a lot to my mom,” Solomon said. “It was just another opportunity for my mom and I to get closer and continue building our relationship. I’d do anything for her.”

In those two weeks, Solomon and his mother talked about her past cancer experiences. He doesn’t remember the first diagnosis, and only remembers bits and pieces of her second bout with cancer.

“How did you get through those two times?” Solomon asked.

“Fight,” Tina said. “All you can do is fight and hope the treatment does its job.”

The family has made a GoFundMe page to help with paying off some of the bills for her treatments, since it’s a more aggressive treatment plan. She also appreciates all the prayers coming her way. She said they do help.

Tina is now working out at the local gym, and Solomon and her stay in contact almost every day to see how that particular day went and to encourage one another to continue working hard to reach each other’s goals.

“I want Solomon to focus on basketball,” Tina said. “That’s why he went to Iowa State. He can get an education and also continue pursuing his dreams as a basketball player.”

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 visited schools like Nevada, San Francisco, UC Berkeley and San Jose.  

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.

Solomon Young boxes out West Virginia's Brandon Watkins in the first half of the Big 12 Championship game on Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ryan Young/Iowa State Daily

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.

Ups and downs

Solomon came to Iowa State knowing four of the five starters were senior leaders and the main four for the upcoming season. He continued to learn and progress and vie for that fifth starting spot, but then he broke his hand and had to sit out for about a month.

After working hard to get back to 100 percent, Solomon had his shot to start on February 11, 2017, when Iowa State hosted Oklahoma.

He had eight points, two blocks and two rebounds during 22 minutes of play. Prohm said it was nice to have a big man like Solomon to be in the paint grabbing rebounds and also using the paint to score points.

In his 12 starts last season, Iowa State went 10-2. One of his biggest games was at Kansas State when he recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

In the Big 12 Tournament, Solomon showed his dominance in the paint by blocking four shots, a career high, against TCU in the semifinals.

“He was the puzzle piece Iowa State was missing,” Sousa said. “It was a perfect fit that led to a great ending with a Big 12 Tournament championship.”

Solomon couldn’t have asked for a better first season with a Big 12 championship and experience in the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a fun first year,” Solomon said. “Of course, we wanted to make it farther in the NCAA Tournament, but winning a Big 12 championship helped me learn how hard you need to work and the determination you need to reach that goal.”

Now he wants more.

Iowa State forward Solomon Young dunks the ball after a lob pass from a teammate. The Cyclones went on to win 130-63.
Photo by Chris Jorgensen/Iowa State Daily

“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.”

This story was updated in late December because of minor factual errors in the original story. 

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