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Bozeman called early competitor

by I.C. Murrell | June 18, 2021 at 2:43 a.m.
Solomon Bozeman walks into the STEM conference center to be introduced as UAPB men’s basketball coach Tuesday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

A longtime basketball coach, Eric Bozeman took note of his son Solomon's competitive nature as a toddler.

"He was 4 years old, and it was tricycle race," said the elder Bozeman, a former Division II head coach who's now an assistant at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. "And he was sick – really sick – but he begged me to take him because he wanted to win the tricycle race. I was the head coach at Henderson State then. And he got out of bed, I took him to the race, he won the tricycle race, he threw up right after the race, and I took him and put him right back in bed.

"And I knew right then he was going to be a competitor."

Eric Bozeman raised a well-decorated competitor who was unveiled this week as coach of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff men's team.

Solomon Bozeman, now 33, was a high-scoring Division I prospect at Oxford (Mississippi) High School while his father served under Rod Barnes at Ole Miss. Eric Bozeman took the job at Southern Arkansas University in May 2005, and Solomon transferred to Magnolia High School, where he led the Panthers to the 4A state championship game the next season.

From there, Solomon Bozeman went from the University of South Florida to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he won player-of-the-year honors in the Sun Belt Conference and hit the game-winning basket against the University of North Texas in the 2011 conference tournament final.

After a short career in the NBA G League and overseas, Solomon Bozeman carved his own path in the coaching profession, and when he spoke before the UAPB faithful, he took time to thank coaches he said were influential in his life, specifically Oral Roberts University's Paul Mills, former UALR Coach Wes Flanigan and recently hired University of Texas at El Paso Coach Joe Golding.

"They put in a lot of hours," Solomon said. "They gave me hope, even at times when I didn't believe it. I can't thank those guys enough for this opportunity."

The younger Bozeman started out under Golding at Abilene Christian University, which was transitioning into a Division I program that Golding eventually led to an upset of the University of Texas in this year's NCAA tournament first round. Golding also was an assistant coach under Steve Shields at UALR during Solomon Bozeman's playing days.

By 2016, Solomon Bozeman found himself back at UALR, working on Wes Flanigan's staff in hopes of replicating the Trojans' run to the NCAA second round under Chris Beard.

Flanigan, as an assistant coach, signed him when he transferred from South Florida in 2008, but went to work under Mike Davis at the University of Alabama at Birmingham without coaching his recruit in Little Rock.

"Solomon is like a little bro to me," said Flanigan, now an assistant at Auburn University. "Coach [Eric] Bozeman coached me in AAU at 14 or 15, and Solomon's work ethic, he learned that from his dad. That transferred into the coaching profession. If he's not working out, he's working out a player.

"If there's a definition for gym rat, Solomon Bozeman's name or picture should be next to it."

Solomon Bozeman spent the past three years at Oral Roberts University and took part in his own "Big Dance" after the Golden Eagles won the Summit League title. ORU shocked second-seeded Ohio State University and Southeastern Conference contender University of Florida before coming within a 3-point basket of eliminating the University of Arkansas in the Sweet 16.

ORU Coach Paul Mills said he didn't stumble on the man he calls Solo.

"He's very well-known in coaching circles," Mills said. "Grant McCasland, who I coached with at Baylor, took the job at Arkansas State, and I knew he was upset that Solo, who was at UALR at the time, wouldn't get to help him."

Mills called McCasland, now at North Texas, in search of an assistant in 2018, and Solomon Bozeman was referred. Turns out, the new hire brought a work ethic that matches the type of person he is, Mills said.

"He was not only a good match, but a guy I wanted to be around," Mills said.

Raised in a family where Solomon Bozeman said he learned what hard work looks like, he is now prepped to take on the mantle of a Division I program that hasn't sported a winning record since going 16-14 under George Ivory in 2012-13.

"We're going to live in the gym," the Golden Lions' new coach said. "When I say live in the gym, those guys are going to know what real work looks like."

Wes Flanigan
Wes Flanigan
Joe Golding
Joe Golding
Paul Mills
Paul Mills

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