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Why Solomon is a Hawk

He didn’t make the All-Big East First Team, and USF didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, let alone its conference tournament. Basketball fans across the nation probably didn’t know who he was until the Atlanta Hawks drafted him early in the second round of the NBA Draft.

So what made Solomon Jones, the highest-drafted basketball player in USF history, worthy of being taken 33rd overall in the draft?

“We think he’ll be able to block shots at our level,” Atlanta Hawks General Manager Billy Knight said. “We think he’ll be able to rebound at our level, and we think he’s shown a surprising amount of skill from a big man.”

Jones, who averaged 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game as USF’s starting center last season, lacked the national media attention other Big East starters received. But impressive individual performances against several ranked teams and invitations to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Virginia and the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando overshadowed USF’s last-place finish in the Big East.

“We add everything together,” Knight said. “We aren’t just taking his career in college. We don’t just take Portsmouth. We don’t just take Orlando. We add everything together, and we came out with him as a good prospect for us.”

After having successful camps in Portsmouth and Orlando, Jones was projected to be a late second-round pick, but when the 6-foot-10 Mount Dora native heard his name called third in the second round, he wasn’t surprised.

“I just kept working hard, and I got what I deserved,” said Jones, who became the first USF player drafted into the NBA in 20 years. “I thought I could have gone earlier, but everything happens for a reason. I was put there for a reason.”

Along with competing in arguably the best conference in college basketball, Jones feels one of those reasons was his play at the postseason camps, which helped give him the chance to make it to the NBA.

“I think they helped a whole lot,” Jones said. “I think I went there and just did what I had to do. They helped expose me a whole lot more because we weren’t really a nationally exposed team, so when I went there and showed my talent, I thought I did good.”

Joining the Hawks, Jones is leaving one struggling team to play for another. Atlanta, which finished last season with a 26-56 record, hasn’t had a winning season since 1998-99.

“We’d like to get bigger,” Knight said. “We’d like to get more athletic, and we’d like to have players that protect the goal. We took (Duke All-American) Shelden Williams with the first pick and Solomon with the second pick. We think we have two guys that can help us do that.”

Knight called next season’s Hawks a “rebuilding team” and said Jones will get his chance to play a role.

“We certainly look at him to come in and compete for playing time,” Knight said. “He will be on our team. There’s no question about that.”