Horsham's Solomon an agent for dreamers

Jonathan Solomon (right) , a former Arcardia basketball player, oversees European tours for players looking for one last chance. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Jonathan Solomon (right) , a former Arcardia basketball player, oversees European tours for players looking for one last chance. CHARLES FOX / Staff
Posted: July 22, 2014

One recent morning, a couple of dozen basketball players gathered inside a converted Happy Harry's warehouse in Newark, Del. They'd paid $255 to $300 at the door - for the opportunity to try out for a hoop tour of Germany and Luxembourg.

The tryout at the Delaware Sportsplex was a first step on a ladder. The late August foreign tour could be looked at as another tryout, a hope that maybe an overseas professional team would see usable skills and offer its own tryout.

"It's kind of like AAU, sort of like overseas AAU, to give guys exposure to get an opportunity to get a contract," said Jon Solomon of Horsham, in charge of the tour.

That slender hope was enough to fill the allotted tryout slots, even with the understanding that if the ballplayers were picked from the group of 50 from this tryout session and another in Phoenix, they would pay another $350 plus the cost of a flight. One player drove up from Atlanta, another came down from Canada. One man flew in from Los Angeles. Most had played college ball.

"Everybody can ball," one of the men running the session told the players just before the tryout. "We're looking for professionals."

Solomon, 28, wore Nikes, jeans and an untucked black golf shirt with an OVERSEAS EXPOSURE logo. He told the gathered group he had been a player, too, before he became an agent.

"I wasn't good enough," Solomon told them. "I'm following my dream, just like you."

At Hatboro-Horsham High, Solomon said later, he was the classic end-of-the-bench dreamer, with a memory of his own Rudy moments, like when students stormed the court after he scored his first point against Quakertown High.

Solomon was a very-end-of-the-bench guy at Arcadia, finally getting into a game his sophomore year. (He scored five points, he said.) He knew his playing days were over after college so he thought about representing more talented guys he knew.

Eventually, that led him into putting together these tours. His first real break happened last year, he said, when Tracy McGrady signed on for an NBA Legends Chinese tour. Solomon became the American contact for the tour after he had contacted a Chinese tour director on LinkedIn.

How did he get McGrady?

"I called every single person in my phone," Solomon said, punctuating his sentence with a laugh. "One person knew a guy who lived with Tracy McGrady."

The first offer to the ballplayer, Solomon said, was $250,000.

"His first reaction was, 'I need more money,' " Solomon said. "We said $300,000. They said yes."

The tour came off after last year's NBA finals, actually had to be delayed because McGrady played in those finals for San Antonio.

Another legends tour is planned this year for the Philippines. Solomon said he had just gotten a call from his contact there who spoke optimistically about Allen Iverson's involvement.

Solomon had put together one of these tryout tours last year, he said, and learned a lot of lessons. By the end, players were calling home for money to finish it off. They weren't happy with him.

"Europe is very expensive," Solomon said. "I didn't know all the costs. We went to five countries. Germany, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Ireland."

One guy did a job out of it in Hungary, he said. This next European tour won't feature any legends, just more hopefuls. A couple had already played overseas professional ball.

"We did a little bit of research on you on Google and YouTube," Solomon told the group before the tryout.

Most guys looked fit but one man in his 20s had a little paunch. He hit some high-arcing three-pointers during warm-ups. But could he play?

"I think he's one of those 'dream' guys," Solomon said as the tryout game began after some drills.

"OK, he set a good screen," Solomon said a minute later. "He understands the game."

Then the agent added, "I think he's too slow."

The tryout was for two days, with cuts after the first day. The paunchy guy didn't make the cut.

"There are some players with talent, but we'll see who plays tomorrow when they're tired," said Hans Beth, a German basketball coach running the X's and O's end of the tour. "The tour is 10 games in 14 days."

A post player with a ponytail got the ball inside and tried to make a play. Solomon walked over to him.

"Two times in a row, he tried to get his own shot," Solomon said when he got back to the sideline. "I told him, 'Do it again, you're going home.' "

The next play, the ponytailed player caught a pass and immediately redirected it to a teammate. After a break, he kicked out his next touch to a wide-open guard who hit a corner three.

"He didn't want to get cut," Solomon said as he filmed the tryout. "This is a reality show waiting to happen."


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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