Ty Solomon’s dreadlocks bounced off his back with every dribble. When a crossover failed to shake his defender, Solomon retreated to the top of the key and squared him up. The next move — a hard drive left — was simple but effective. Solomon’s quickness got him all the way to the rim, where he easily converted a layup opportunity.
“He looked like Ty,” Antoine Saunders said, “making plays, showing a joy for basketball.”
Saunders coached Solomon on both the AAU (Team TMP) and high school (Charleston Collegiate) levels. He’s well-trained in noticing details of Solomon’s game. If something looks a tad off, he could likely tell.
But this was no replica of the 5-foot-11 point guard who took SCISA Region 1-2A player of the year honors in 2014. This wasn’t a trimmed down version of a Solomon who was in South Carolina State’s starting lineup this past season for games against the likes of Wisconsin, Boston College and UCLA.
This was Solomon on Saturday, back in his hometown, hooping with some old friends and competing every second.
“Real fun,” Solomon said.
Solomon went from relative unknown to headliner in the basketball world last December when he collapsed on the bench during the first half of S.C. State's game at N.C. State. His heart had stopped. He wasn't breathing.
"I didn’t see it," Saunders said. "I got a call and they said, ‘Coach, Ty collapsed.’ And I started making phone calls. By the time I talked to his dad, (Solomon) was already in the back and had come to.
"I didn’t know how bad it was until an hour or so later, because I would have panicked."
Solomon was rescued by a team of medical personnel on-hand at PNC Arena in Raleigh. Tyler Long, a USC graduate student who was completing his clinical work with S.C. State as the team's trainer, was one of the first responders. He started CPR on Solomon.
“Tyler stepped in at the right time, I guess, with CPR,” Solomon told the Raleigh News & Observer. “Everybody else came in with the defibrillator and did what they had to do to revive me.”
He later called Long and company the people who “literally saved my life."
Seven months have passed, and Solomon has yet to play his next collegiate game. When Saunders helped organize a "Legends Game" for former TMP players, he knew Solomon would want to participate.
“We’re close," Saunders said. "We talk regularly. He’s telling me he’s playing pickup. I know what he’s allowed to do. It’s still a little scary watching him, but since I talk to him so much regularly, it just didn’t bother me.
"But the people who haven’t seen him are like, ‘Why should Ty be out there?’”
Solomon's serious playing days are over, but it hasn't stopped him from getting in the gym around twice a week, he said. Saturday's event was a chance to be reunited with longtime teammates, but also friends who have remained tight, especially over these past seven months.
"I got a lot of calls from a lot of these guys," Saunders recalled. "‘Coach, have you talked to Ty?’ … Probably 90 percent of these guys reached out to me," including K.J. James, a Charleston native, former Valdosta State standout and older brother of five-star recruit and USC target Josiah James.
"I played AAU with them when I was 16," Solomon said. "Six years later, I’m playing with these guys and I’m seeing their lives change. ... It's crazy."
Solomon's life took a major turn last winter, but he was reminded of his good fortune in May when he was back in Raleigh for Code: Celebrate, an event aimed to recognize the 120 cardiac arrest survivors in Wake County (N.C.) in 2017. Both Solomon and S.C. State coach Murray Garvin spoke at the event.
"I'm very grateful," Solomon said Saturday. "I'm very thankful."
According to the News & Observer, Solomon is on track to graduate in May 2019 with an engineering degree.
“He can raise awareness on how quickly things can happen," Saunders said. "He was a healthy, in-shape, top-conditioned Division I athlete. It can happen to anybody.
“He’s always had an appreciation for life, but now he has a real appreciation for seeing every day, seeing his friends. He just doesn’t take anything for granted."