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Bozeman molding UAPB through relationships

by Mitchell Gladstone | October 11, 2021 at 2:06 a.m.

A little after 8 p.m. in the fall of 2019, Solomon Bozeman walked out of practice with Oral Roberts Coach Paul Mills.

The season was not far off, but Mills was still missing a piece. He complained to his staff about not having someone with size who was willing to do the dirty work, get into the paint and constantly crash the glass.

Bozeman told Mills he was headed out on the road. He didn't say where, but he was back in Tulsa the next afternoon for the Golden Eagles' 3 p.m. practice. And as he walked into the gym, Bozeman let Mills know he'd found that piece.

"I said, 'OK, who is he?" Mills recalled. "[Solomon] told me he's at Midland Junior College, he's a 6-8, 265-pound banger, he'll stick his nose in there and really play.

"I'm like, 'Do we have film on him?' And Solomon says, 'Well, I've seen him play."

In a 19-hour window, Bozeman had driven 7.5 hours and 500-plus miles, put Elijah Lufile through a 6 a.m. workout in freezing temperatures on an outdoor court in Midland, Texas, then returned to Oral Roberts, making sure not to miss a minute of preseason practice.

"Who does that?" Mills said.

Someone who wants to soon become one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I men's basketball. Someone with the ambition to do far more than what's expected of him. Someone with the relationships to know where to find players.

As Bozeman, 33, begins the countdown to his first season at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it's evident how his basketball roots are shaping the Golden Lions long before their opener tips off.

Arkansas on the mind

The Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and an honorable mention AP All-American, Bozeman led the University of Arkansas-Little Rock to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than two decades as a senior in 2011.

Three years later, after bouncing between Texas, North Macedonia, Estonia, Israel, Ukraine and Qatar, Bozeman came home to Arkansas and proposed to his wife, Myla. He realized it was time to call it quits on his playing days.

Coincidentally, Bozeman's former UALR assistant coach, Joe Golding, had a spot open on his staff at Abilene Christian.

"The one constant with Solo is he's always been the hardest-working person I've ever been around," Golding said, crediting Bozeman for laying the groundwork in helping to get Abilene Christian to the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. "We were probably one of the worst Division I programs in the country. He honestly probably got the job because we had no money to hire assistants.

"He was green, he had no experience but he was very loyal."

The same trait brought Bozeman back to UALR when the Trojans hired Wes Flanigan as head coach in 2016.

But it wasn't just about the school. It was a return to the state where he ignited his basketball career.

While playing with the Texas Legends of the NBA G League in 2012-13, Bozeman went to a tattoo shop just outside Dallas, and from shoulder to shoulder, he had the state of Arkansas inked on his back along with letters spelling out the state.

It was a way to tangibly carry Arkansas with him forever.

"That's where I'm from. I always want to be representing Arkansas," Bozeman said. "Wherever I played, wherever I coached, Arkansas was always on my mind. I just love the state."

Bozeman didn't have his path planned. He became a Division I assistant at 26 and bounced between three schools over seven seasons. The road was there for him to continue progressing toward a high-major Division I assistant job.

But the UAPB opening meant a chance to come home again, so he jumped at it.

"It's a perfect fit," Golding said. "Solo's always wanted to be a head coach. I think he's ready for this. ... I have no doubt in my mind that he'll build that program and he'll be competing for championships in the near future."

Loyalty and relationships

Building UAPB in Bozeman's image began with his staff. Assistants Cameron Henderson and Bryan Sherrer were each three-time all-state players at Little Rock Hall and Monticello, respectively. Bozeman then brought along Dakota Brasher, who spent the last three seasons as a graduate assistant at Oral Roberts.

He needed several new players as well. Conway alumnus Kylen Milton is back in Arkansas after spending his freshman season at Western Kentucky, and Bozeman will have a pair of former Maumelle standouts making their NCAA debut -- Brahm Harris was at junior college in Missouri and Dreshaun Doyne, who attended prep school in California last year, flipped after signing with Central Arkansas in April.

Bozeman's most impactful addition could be a third former Hornet: Shawn Williams, the 2018 American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year at East Carolina, is on his fourth school in five years (New Mexico State and Nicholls State) giving the Golden Lions a veteran presence.

Bozeman and the Golden Lions were even in the running to land North Little Rock's Nick Smith -- the No. 9 player in the nation per 247Sports committed to Arkansas over UAPB, Auburn and Alabama last month.

The fact that the Golden Lions were even in the mix for one of the nation's premier recruits makes clear the impact Bozeman is already having.

"He understands where players come from, he understands the spots players want to get to," Smith said of Bozeman. "Just knowing Solo, [UAPB is going to be] a grimy environment -- it's either going to make you a dog or you're going to lay down for somebody."

Bozeman is still putting on a full-court press for the likes of Little Rock Parkview's Cameron Wallace, Maumelle's Carl Daugherty Jr. and Little Rock Christian's Creed Williamson, just as he would've at any of his previous stops. Because he has stayed connected throughout the Arkansas basketball community, Bozeman's been able to mine gems from what's often an underrecruited region.

And with a limited budget -- UAPB ranked 220th in revenue out of 227 public Division I universities, according to a June 2020 USA Today accounting -- any edge the Golden Lions can get from their head coach would be a massive lift.

"I'm really looking at the coaching staff, the environment, what I'm going to be around," Wallace said. "[Solo] has a lot of energy and a lot of trust in the people he's with. If he's working with anybody ... he's not going to let up and he's going to do what's best to make you better."

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