A high ball screen. A roll to the basket. A thunderous dunk over an opponent. Those words ring a familiar bell, but is one of older times that have grown fainter in Oklahoma State basketball history.
It brings back memories of Big Country and Marcus Dove. Matt Pilgrim and Marshall Moses. Even Michael Cobbins.
But not Mitchell Solomon.
If we play the word association game, I’m not sure “thunderous dunk” and “Mitchell Solomon” would have clicked last week. But, now they do, because he did just that on Saturday. And it was a thing of beauty.
Mitchell Solomon, making a poster pic.twitter.com/T6KnMeKM7l— Mark Cooper (@mark_cooperjr) January 21, 2017
That dunk, just on its surface, is incredibly impressive. But it goes deeper than that.
That dunk gave us a glimpse of what seems to be a growing confidence for the junior forward from Bixby.
Solomon, for the majority of his career, had been the scapegoat for many of Oklahoma State’s problems. He was the whipping post. When things went south in the Ford era, and he fumbled the occasional pass out of bounds, he was the easy target.
We had grown all too comfortable in our inherent frustration with Solomon that we aren’t giving him enough credit for the growth he has shown this season.
After his 16-point explosion against Kansas, our own Brodie Smith wrote an excellent piece about it. He writes:
“The Oklahoma State Cowboys showed something against Kansas that fans hadn’t witnessed before—an unleashed and practically unstoppable Mitchell Solomon. Taking advantage of a lack of depth in the Jayhawks’ interior, Solomon turned into a devastating weapon in the second half, snatching rebounds, putting back missed shots and seemingly unable to miss his own.”
Those 16 points were his career high by a large margin, with his previous high being ten, which came in 2015 against Tulsa. His performance against Kansas came as a shock to the Cowboy faithful, but was something that Brad Underwood hoped, and believed, he could get out of Solomon.
Before the season began, Underwood said:
“As he gains confidence, I don’t see why he can’t be a leader on this team, an impact player for this team, and one of the better players in our conference.”
All of those things are coming to fruition, it would appear. Even Travis Ford said that he had all of the tools, but lacked confidence in himself. Given the way he rolled to the basket, threw it down and flexed in the highlight above, I’d say he’s starting to figure things out.
His development is not only astonishing on the surface, but it also provides an incredibly useful skill-set for the Cowboys. They generally lack interior presence, and a new-and-improved Solomon could be the answer they need. We saw it work possession after possession against Kansas in crunch time. After that game, Underwood said:
“I think we found a player in Mitchell Solomon tonight ... Very proud of him. His fight. He gives us another look, another option when we can run our ball screen stuff and actually throw him the ball.”
16 points and 4 in Allen Fieldhouse is impressive for anyone in this league, but to come from the hands of Solomon might have seemed too good to be true. What if it was just a flash in the pan?
As an encore, he followed that performance up with 10 points and seven boards against Kansas State, and nine points, four boards and a poster against Texas Tech.
We are seeing a pattern with Solomon, the likes of which we haven’t come close to expecting throughout his career. He is playing the best basketball of his career and is getting better every time he steps on the floor. That is a testament, not only to the work that Solomon has put in, but also to the coaching of Brad Underwood.
A certain coach before him spent two years trying to get this level of play from him, and never got close.
Now, halfway through the first year of Underwood’s career, we are witnessing Mitchell Solomon blossom into something we never thought possible ...
A force to be dealt with.