Many remember the powerful scene in the 1993 American sports film, Rudy, when Rudy Ruttinger—the archetypical underdog who had long romanticized playing for the University of Notre Dame’s football team—is allowed to suit up in the final down of the game. Victory, inevitably, follows, and—in true cinematic serendipity—the previously disregarded, benched player is whisked onto the shoulders of his teammates and carried off the field.
Only in the movies? “Not so,” said Jonathan Solomon ’08, who recruits and trains “real-life ‘Rudy’s’” to reach their athletic potential. In 2011, Solomon founded Self-Motivated Athletic Agency (SMAA), a sports agency that focuses on discovering talent, specifically in basketball, from mid-major NCAA Division I schools to non-major college programs, and anyone else with a hoop dream. The goal is to showcase players on a more prominent and global stage, eventually helping them earn a professional contract to play abroad.
“You have to want it and be realistic with yourself,” he tells his growing roster of clients, which includes notable athletes like seven-time NBA All-Star swingman Tracy McGrady, Hall of Famer Gary Payton, Jason Williams, and Bonzie Wells—all of whom participated in legends tours in 2013. He also represents those of lesser fame but equal athletic verve, like combo-guard Kwan Waller. “Don’t worry about what people think,” Solomon will add in earnest, “and do not give up.”
While Solomon did not get much court time during high school, or in his years playing point guard at Arcadia University, his “whatever it takes attitude” never wavered. “I’m more talented in business than basketball,” admitted Solomon, who went to Full Sail University to obtain his master’s degree in the entertainment business after graduating from Arcadia University with a bachelor of arts in elementary education.
I met so many great people at Arcadia. It was a time of development for me in so many ways.
With a lighthearted chuckle, Solomon referred to his tenure at Arcadia as a growth period, learning how to balance schoolwork with his love of basketball. “I met so many great people at Arcadia. It was a time of development for me in so many ways.” However, it was during his graduate studies at Full Sail that he began his business plan for SMAA. “It was just an idea at first, a fantasy…but now I’m able to provide a legitimate opportunity for any aspiring basketball player who thinks he can be a pro.”
Solomon grooms players who, like him, have experienced adversity in their careers, but exude a passion for the game, “have confidence, and a great attitude.” SMAA hosts camps to train and test players’ skill level before sending select players overseas to compete in exhibition games against the top teams in a particular country’s highest professional league. In its first foray abroad, SMAA sent six players to China to position them in front of coaches with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). The CBA is the foremost men’s professional basketball league in China, and allows a limited number of slots to foreign players on each team. “Finally, they’re given the exposure they deserve…a chance to really be seen,” said Solomon. “And if they land a contract, all the better. This is what SMAA is all about…we’re opening doors for players who have had the door slammed on them by the NBA.”
Following the trip to China, SMAA has hosted competitions in Spain, Germany, Hungary, Australia, Slovakia, Ireland, Luxemburg, Mexico, and the Philippines.
Solomon is so enthused about the uniqueness of his program that he is actively promoting the emotional side of “what it’s like to make it overseas” to potential reality show producers. “SMAA will go down in the books as one of the greatest stories of all time. I’ll be that guy that changes the way basketball works on the business side.”
Solomon’s advice to aspiring athletes and business-focused majors at Arcadia:
“If you have a vision to do something, just do it. You won’t regret it!”