Whatever happened to the Big Man on Campus? If anyone should qualify for that hallowed status it's Dale Solomon of Virginia Tech, the school's alltime leading scorer and soon to become the first player to be named first-team All-Metro Conference four times. Yet here he is, cup in hand almost, ironing a shirt and a pair of pants in his apartment while his wife, Carmen, looks on. "I do the windows, floors and dishes, too," moans Solomon.
"Well, I cook." says Carmen.
So does Solomon, who, whenever he's not playing the henpecked husband, can really shake and bake on the court. At week's end he was averaging better than 18 points a game and had led Tech to an 11-2 record. VPI's most impressive victory came two weeks ago against Louisville, then ranked ninth in the SI poll and everyone's preseason pick to win the Metro. That 75-74 win has helped the Hokies—you know, Hokies, as in that old rousing cheer, "Hokie, Hokie, Hokie hi, Tech, Tech, VPI"—rebound from a disappointing 15-13 record in 1980-81. With all five starters back from last season's lead-footed squad, Tech has surprised its opponents with a new fast-break, hurry-up offense.
"Last year we weren't versatile," says Coach Charles Moir, "we were just slow." This season the Hokies have been anything but, scoring 82.5 points a game, with Solomon either starting the race with an outlet pass or ending it with a basket. He often does both on the same play.
Moir says Solomon, a senior forward/center who stands 6'8", reminds him of another big man who can get out on the break, Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics. "Dale may be our best shooter from 17 feet in," says Moir. "I can't get him to put it up enough from the outside; he always wants to take the ball down low." A testimony to Solomon's fine touch is his 87% mark at the free-throw line, but Moir can't complain too much about his star's shot selection, because Solomon is hitting 66.9% of his field-goal attempts. Although he isn't all that ferocious a re-bounder (6.7 a game), Solomon is nearly imposssible to stop once he gets the ball. "He's such a great scorer that you can't even think about beating Virginia Tech unless you find a way to stop Solomon," says Florida State Coach Joe Williams.
"The best thing about Dale is his unselfishness," says teammate Reggie Steppe. "Even when he doesn't score a lot of points, he doesn't go around saying he has to get the ball more." Steppe, a 6-foot guard whose fancy passing often prompts VPI fans to chant "Reg-gie, Reg-gie" as if they were at Yankee Stadium, is content to let Solomon stir the drink for Tech. "We know who the superstar is here," he says. "Everyone else revolves around Dale."
Things don't work quite the same way at home, much to the credit and delight of Carmen, a senior in communications. (Dale majors in phys ed.) She's her husband's biggest fan—and detractor. "When he was a struggling freshman, I had to build him up," she says. "Now I have to keep him in line."
En route to dinner recently, Carmen wondered aloud how anyone had heard of Dale outside of Blacksburg, Va., where Tech is located. "Carmen," said Dale, "see that little star twinkling in the sky out there? It says, 'Behold, there's a bigger star that shines in Blacksburg.' "
Their mutual affection is obvious, and Carmen is the perfect foil for Dale's wit, although she has pretended to be unimpressed with him since they met on a blind date their freshman year. "At first I thought he was too fresh," she says. "He was always touching me on my arms and shoulders."
"That just shows how much I respect ed you," says Dale. "I grabbed all the other girls."
This past March it was Carmen's turn to do the grabbing when, on a whim, they decided to elope. "It was a Wednesday, and we were just sitting around when Dale asked me if I wanted to get married that evening," she says. "I thought, 'Here's my chance, I'd better jump on it.' "
Jump on it they did. They borrowed $20 from a friend for the blood tests, only to find out they would have to wait a day for the results. Undaunted, they secretly tied the knot two days later.
The marriage, i.e., Carmen, has gone a long way toward transforming Solomon from, as one reporter wrote, a "terrorizing personality" into what his wife describes as "a little puppy dog." While he's fond of saying that "a turtle can't move unless he sticks his neck out," for most of his career at Tech, Solomon has chosen to remain in a shell. After averaging 17.8 points in 1978-79 and becoming the first freshman to make first-team All-Metro, he got arrogant and a newspaper story intimated that the success may have gone to his head. Since then, Solomon has pretty much kept quiet. "I don't want anyone else to get the wrong impression of me," he says.
Silence is more suited to Solomon's background, anyway. The son of a career Army man and a librarian, he was exposed to discipline early. "We were told to be nice to everybody, no matter what," he says.
As a senior at Annapolis (Md.) High he scored 23 points a game in leading his team to the Class-AA state finals. But his grades weren't as good as his jump shot. Rather than attend a junior college, he chose to go to a prep school for a year—Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. Solomon felt right at home with the discipline, yes-sirring and no-sirring with the best of them, although he never rose above private. "Most guys with rank were either there six or seven years or played football," he says. "The football coach was the commandant."
Solomon averaged 29 points and 14 rebounds at Fork Union. "I was getting about 35 points a game until all the other guys on the team decided they wanted to shoot, too," he says. After the season, schools that had shied away from Solomon because of his grades came roaring back. He chose Virginia Tech because its interest had never waned.
The next year the Hokies focused their interest on Ralph Sampson, who seriously considered Tech before choosing Virginia. That year VPI finished 22-9 and qualified for the NCAA tournament, as the Hokies did again in Solomon's sophomore year. But then, in 1980-81, they paid for having concentrated on Sampson. "We put a lot of eggs in his basket," says Moir, in explaining Tech's record last season. "We spent so much time on him, we lost others we could've gotten if we'd paid any attention to them." The Tech coaches hadn't been any more persuasive in 1979-80, so last spring Moir found himself in the position of "having to have a great recruiting year." This season's two newcomers, Al and Perry Young (no relation), are second on the team in assists and third in rebounding, respectively, and their speed has played a vital role in Moir's new hurry-up attack.
Four highly touted high school players have orally committed to Tech for next year, but right now Solomon commands all the attention, particularly from the opposition. Last week Tulane defied the Hokies to shoot from the outside, keeping two men in front of Solomon and another behind. The Green Wave held him to a season-low 10 points but lost 65-64. On Saturday, Florida State employed the same tactics in a 69-65 upset of Tech in Blacksburg. Solomon was six for eight from the field and finished with 16 points, but his teammates couldn't get the ball to him most of the game.
Solomon finds himself looking forward to the day when he won't receive such special attention from opponents. "This should be the last year I'll have to put up with it," he says, "but with my luck, they'll legalize the collapsing zone in the NBA next year." But by then, at least, he probably won't have to do his own ironing.
Word to the wise: Double-team Solomon.