ACC Legends: Dale Solomon of Virginia Tech

March 4, 2012

Dale Solomon cannot reveal the identity of the people he guards these days. That’s classified. His previous work in guarding and manning a post has always been public, and for fans of the Virginia Tech Hokies, it’s a great story.

Solomon, a first-team All-Metro Conference player in all four of his seasons, is his alma mater’s ACC Legend for 2012.

“I couldn’t have imagined this,” he said.

That’s chiefly because the Hokies were several years from joining the ACC in Solomon’s era (1978-82). The Metro served them well, however, as they enjoyed rivalries with Louisville and Memphis State and made two NCAA Tournaments and an NIT in his four years. In fact, Virginia Tech won the league in its first season of membership, 1978-79, behind the play of the 6-foot-9 freshman, who was named the conference tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and the league’s Freshman of the Year.

“Just like any basketball player, I thought the Metro Conference would go on forever,” he said. “The Metro faded away, and by entering the ACC, Virginia Tech helped its recruiting.”

The ACC of Solomon’s day was undeniably rugged, but competing in the Metro, from which Louisville won the 1980 NCAA title, suggests the Hokies wouldn’t have been overwhelmed in any league. Solomon wouldn’t have allowed it.

He averaged 18.4 points a game over his career, and his total of 2,136 points is still good for fourth on the school’s all-time list.

“Winning the Metro in our first year in the conference was a big achievement for everybody,” he said. “And then playing in the NCAA Tournament against some of the greatest players out there was exciting.”

In 1979, that meant facing Larry Bird and Indiana State, which defeated the Hokies and ultimately played for the national title. Solomon scored 12 points that day – Bird finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists – and had a taste of higher competition.

He’d get other chances. In 1982, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Solomon in the third round, and he had a chance at a lifetime dream. He also had foresight, a trait that not everybody possesses when presented a chance at an NBA roster spot.

“I went to rookie camp and did pretty well and they did invite me back to veterans camp,” he said. “But there wasn’t enough of a guarantee. They had just signed Moses Malone. And then I saw a great opportunity to play overseas.”

Solomon took that deal, going to Italy for 12 seasons and to Spain for one. He arrived in Italy in the summer of 1982 when the country was in delirium over its soccer team’s World Cup triumph.

“Everything shut down,” he recalled. “Nobody was moving. Here I am, a kid from America. Didn’t know anything about Italy or speak the language. The only thing I could understand to order at a restaurant was vegetable soup. I think I ate vegetable soup for almost a month.”

But Solomon picked up enough Italian to get around, and his gregarious nature helped him make friends and remain in his professional league for a dozen years.

And that also became important when, upon retirement from basketball, Solomon sought to enter law enforcement. Living abroad, experiencing customs and interacting with the locals made Solomon a guy the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to hire. He’s based in Washington, D.C., where he has protected foreign visitors and screened the vehicles and employees of government contractors.

He aspires to move from wearing a uniform to a suit, the sort of progress you make if you move into direct personal protection full-time.

“It’s something I hadn’t thought of it,” Solomon said of his current career. “When I was growing up, there weren’t too many officers of color around, and nobody pushed their kids to it. Today, we can see many opportunities for people like myself in law enforcement.”

Solomon’s protection of the lane in Hokie basketball days included 856 rebounds, a total that stands seventh in Tech records books. His tenacity in the paint and good sense of shot-selection gave him a career field-goal percentage (.567) that is second on that list.

Solomon says the hardest thing about his work these days is just showing up. He elected to live near where he grew up, on the outskirts of a state park near Annapolis, Md. The drive to and from work lasts two hours each way.

But it’s worth it. As an athlete, Solomon saw the world. He sees it these days in a different way. And if his fellow Legends need personal-protection services, he’ll probably be happy to provide them.