Basketball Brotherhood: Manasquan, New Jersey Brothers Lean on Team Following Tragedy
After every one of his sons’ basketball games, Larry Solomon would talk to both of his boys about the game they played, usually after heading over to the gym at Manasquan High School to chat up as many people in attendance as he could while still still making his usual mental notes on the game.
Even the restriction of spectators in high-school gyms in New Jersey this year did not stop him from offering his input to both senior Andrew and junior Matt on their individual performance and the performance of their Manasquan boys basketball team during the opening week of the 2021 season.
Whether in person or over an internet stream, Larry Solomon was going to watch Andrew and Matt play for the state’s No. 3 team and share in the experience.
“He loved watching our games and giving us some input and whether it was right or not, we just nodded and said, ‘Yeah,’” Andrew Solomon said. “It was great talking to him after games.”
On Feb. 15, Manasquan returned from a two-week shutdown due to a positive COVID-19 case on its team and for the first time all year, parents of the players were allowed into the gym to watch. There was, however, one notable absence.
On morning of Feb. 9, Andrew and Matt awoke to the devastating news that earlier that morning, their father Larry succumbed to a combination of COVID-19 and bronchitis while staying at their grandmother's house, which is next-door to their home in Spring Lake Heights. Larry Solomon was 65 years old.
“Finding out the news, it’s nothing you can expect,” Andrew Solomon said. “We were just shocked.”
Andrew and Matt were back at their house quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus, hoping to shake the virus and return to the court with their Manasquan team. In the final days before his death, however, their focus gradually shifted to their ailing father.
“It was unexpected to be honest,” Matt Solomon said. “He was still up and moving around so we didn’t really expect it at all.”
Even with Larry's condition beginning to worsen, the family did not have an indication that the situation was as dire as it turned out, according to his two sons. On the night of Feb. 8 – a matter of hours before Larry died – Andrew exchanged text messages with his father before he went to bed.
“I texted him the night before, you know: ‘Are you alright, do you need anything?,’” Andrew Solomon said. “He’s a strong guy so he would never say anything and he was like, ‘I’m hurting.’ That’s when I started to think it didn’t make sense and then it happened the next day. That’s when we found him.”
What began as a basketball-focused shutdown that seemed like an inconvenience became a life-altering experience for the Solomons and their support system.
“I have a whole different perspective on the pandemic in general now,” Matt Solomon said. “Before, I would see the death counts on the news going up and it never impacted me personally. Now I realize how serious it is and how important it is that we take it seriously.”
Upon his passing, Larry’s immediate family leaned on their substantial extended family. His widow, Grace, is one of 11 children and her siblings and their children have been constants in the Solomon household over the past 12 days.
"We have so much support from my family," Andrew said. "My aunt and my cousin were (at Saturday's game). My uncle was here the other night. They are really behind us, which means a lot."
There has also been another branch of Andrew and Matt’s extended family to offer their support: their Manasquan basketball team.
“The whole team, they were some of the first people at our house,” Matt said. “They were right by our side the whole time. They were at their best for us.”
“I’m a senior now and every year I have been here has been different and every team has been special in its own way,” Andrew said. “I was on the phone with coach (Andrew Bilodeau) the day it happened and the next day, all the players came to our house. You can tell we are a family the way everyone came together and rallied around us. We’ve had a long couple of weeks but the team and the coaches have really got behind us and helped push us forward, which helps a lot.”
After visiting the Solomon house the day after Larry passed, the team got together to produce Manasquan basketball shirts that read “Solomon Strong” and sported them during warmups ahead of the Warriors’ game against Montclair Immaculate on Monday. Grace Solomon was in attendance on Monday to watch her sons contribute to an exciting, 68-65 Manasquan win over the No. 8 team in the state, according to NJ Advance Media, as well as watch the team remember their father and her husband.
“It was so surreal to see those shirts and it all hit me at once, like a wave,” Matt Solomon said. “I feel like everything has come in waves since it happened.”
Andrew and Matt didn’t just play on Monday, less than a week after their father had died: they played well. Andrew Solomon – who is a 6-foot-5 first-year starter – scored eight points and pulled in five rebounds in the win while his 6-6 younger brother pitched in three points and seven rebounds off the bench, including a tip-in to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
When the game ended, behind the closed doors of the locker room, the Solomon brothers let their emotions pour out with their teammates and coaches standing by in support.
“It was a tough game, we battled back, we won and I remember going back into the locker room and we just broke down,” Andrew Solomon said. “It was the first game back and the coaches and players were all there giving us hugs. It just all came out.”
Andrew Solomon said since Manasquan returned from its team quarantine, he has played with a chip on his should and it has showed. After his inspired performance against Montclair Immaculate on Monday, he went for nine points and 10 rebounds Saturday in a win over No. 17 Don Bosco Prep – a team that sent four players onto the floor in the game that were listed taller than Andrew and he still came within a made free throw of his first career double-double.
“I feel like I had a chip on my shoulder,” Andrew said. “I had to play for him that night (against Montclair Immaculate), which we’re going to do for the rest of the season and the rest of our lives. Everything we do is going to be for him.”
Even before dedicating his season to his late father, Andrew Solomon was playing like a senior ready to make an impact in his first and only season as a starter. Heading into this week, he was averaging 6.6 points and 9.2 rebounds during Manasquan’s 5-0 start to the season.
Maybe Larry Solomon’s basketball advice wasn’t always spot-on in the estimation of his two sons but the life he lived raising his children and supporting their love for sports is lighting their fire for the rest of the year and beyond.
“Everything we do from now on, we’re trying to make him proud,” Matt said.
In his 18 years, Andrew learned to read between the lines of his father’s words, which he did when the final text-message exchange set off an alarm in his head. Once he understood that unique language, all of those postgame conversations - even the more questionable advice - makes sense. Larry Solomon may or may not have been teaching basketball but he was definitely teaching his boys how much he cared.
If they did not know it already, the Solomons also have an entire team behind them that has shown how much they care.
“(Andrew) said it, I said it, my mom said it and my aunt said it: It’s kind of like a second family,” Matt Solomon said. “They were there the whole time. They’re still here for us and we both know that and my mom knows that too.”
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