|PHOTO BY LARRY KUZNIEWSKI|
|Will Solomon at the Grizzlies rookie camp at Rhodes College.|
That's what it is like to make the transition from college to the pros. Every aspect of the game has changed. Just ask Will Solomon, a stand-out guard from Clemson University. He holds 15 school records there and scored in double figures for 52 games straight. He led the ACC in scoring his sophomore year and is second in career three-pointers at Clemson.
But during his first press conference in Memphis, after being drafted by the Grizzlies along with Shane Battier and Pau Gasol, Solomon is just that other guy. The one the Grizzlies took in the second round and who will play behind both starter Jason Williams and back-up Brevin Knight. He's the one too small to play his college position of shooting guard and has been moved to point guard, where he doesn't have the experience or ball-handling skills.
Solomon has also yet to master his public presentation. During the press conference, Solomon wore a T-shirt and shorts. His counterparts wore expensive suits. When asked questions, Solomon either deferred to his teammates or repeated what Battier had already said, talking in halting media speak, with clichés to spare.
So what does this mean? Absolutely nothing. Sitting down to talk to Solomon, it becomes obvious that this quiet 22-year-old has something to say. He just isn't used to talking about it. But when the clichés run out, he reveals the savvy and intelligence that allow him to change his game, to focus on the pass instead of the shot and on defending rather than scoring.
Just ask a simple question. What's your favorite play? "You know the Grizzlies offense fits my style of play," Solomon says. "They like to run and gun. That's something that fits me. I like to run. Making the transition from a shooting guard to a point guard, it's something that I have really enjoyed."
That's nice, but what's your favorite play? There's a pause and a feeling of steely eyes sizing up a defender before a shot is fired to the basket. "I'd probably call a 'Fist 9'," he says. "It's just a running-ball screen, where the guard brings it up for the point guard to create something for himself or others." Fist 9 is a play loaded with options and opportunities for someone who can score and pass like Solomon. It only requires someone with on-court chutzpah to make the play happen.
"It's just confidence," he says with a shrug. "You have to have a lot of confidence to play this game. You have to be willing to get the ball in your hands at any time and be comfortable with that. That's just part of my game. I feel comfortable at any time: the first four minutes, the last four minutes."
Solomon personifies the combination of talent and practice that makes basketball physical poetry. Within the strict confines of the rules, individual brilliance and hard work flourish. It's impossible to ask an artist how to make art, and it's just as hard to ask a basketball player to explain how to be good. How exactly do you explain a three-point play? An alley-oop pass? A blinding cross-over dribble? It's just something good players do when the time is right.
Solomon knows this. He knows that the transition offense the Grizzlies are teaching him requires these sorts of unconscious adjustments. "You have to have a lot of trust in your players to let them keep going up and down," says Solomon. "A lot of things can happen, turn-overs, bad passes, forced shots, just because it's a transition game."
Solomon runs his defensive game the same way. He's just going to go out there and play. "I don't watch a lot of tape," he says. "After the first couple of moves you know how to defend them."
Solomon might not have the niceties of the NBA down to a science. But so what? He is learning the game faster than many might expect and has earned his contract during the summer leagues (second-round draft picks don't have guaranteed contracts). So allow him his clichés. "Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to fill whatever holes need to be filled," he says. "I'm just willing to learn first and take my time and help the team win some ball games."
The molehill of his college experience is behind him. Now all he has to do is climb that mountain.