FAIRMONT – It was a moment that happened quick enough that you may have missed it if you blinked.
It was midway through the first half of a late January battle among top Mountain East Conference contenders, as Fairmont State hosted West Virginia State, and the visitors put up a missed shot that was controlled by back-up Fairmont guard Steven Solomon.
Solomon glanced downcourt and immediately saw a familiar face — junior forward Kenzie Melko-Marshall — making a beeline toward the basket, with not a defender in sight. Solomon quickly whipped a pass to his teammate.
Melko would collect the ball and take a quick dribble, before extending up to the basket and slamming the ball through as the crowd inside Joe Retton Arena exploded. He would hang on the rim for just a second, relishing the moment.
Despite both players being members of the Fairmont State program for the past three and a half seasons, it may have been the first occurrence of the two players connecting on a scoring play — if not, it’s certainly not a sight seen too often by Fairmont State fans.
Before the beginning of the second semester slate, Solomon had played just a few minutes this season, and before that, the two had never been healthy and/or eligible at the same times.
But for Solomon, at least, the play brought back vivid memories from his high school career, in particular a game that occurred almost four years prior, on February 6, 2016 — and it likely did for Melko, as well.
“One of the alley-oops actually reminded of a play when we were playing Martinsburg at home — it was kind of the same situation, honestly we were coming from the same side of the court, same play, same exact thing. That’s what that reminded me of,” he said.
Melko and Solomon are no strangers to connecting in big ways on the hardwood, despite their limited time on the floor together thus far at Fairmont State. The pair grew up a short drive north from Fairmont on Interstate 79, and attended Morgantown High together, both graduating in the Class of 2016.
In the prime of their prep basketball careers, the pair were two crucial pieces of a Morgantown squad that is celebrated as one of the best in school history. During their senior season, the Mohigans ran away to an undefeated season and Class AAA State Championship.
Both committed to play at Fairmont State coming out of high school, but from there destiny played a role in just what they have been able to accomplish as a duo collegiately. During the pair’s first season, Melko redshirted while Solomon earned limited minutes as a role player on a team that won the MEC Championship and advanced to the NCAA Division 2 National Championship Game, where they lost to Northwest Missouri State.
However, Solomon was injured late in the season and missed the final stretch, and would end up using a redshirt the next season while he continued to recover. The next season — 2018-2019 — looked to be the stage where the pair could finally reconnect, as Melko was looking at a prime role in the lineup and Solomon was set to be healthy.
But before the season began, another injury sidelined Solomon for the year, leaving his return and battle to earn his spot back until this winter.
Now, with Melko a starter and leader on the roster and Solomon beginning to rekindle his original role within the program, the duo are ready to make an impact together for the Falcons. Against West Virginia State, the pair would connect three separate time on scoring plays, demonstrating their chemistry when in the lineup together.
“This kid has been my best friend since we were freshman in high school. To be able to share the same court with him finally in college is a great feeling,” Melko said.
Over their adolescent and now young adult years, Melko and Solomon have spent countless hours playing the game of basketball together as well as developing their close friendship — that time together has led to the pair understanding each other a bit better on the court than many normal teammates can.
“We play so well together because we’ve known each other for so long. We’ve been on the same court for years upon years now. We really understand each other’s games — he knows when I’m going to cut, I know when he’s going to pass, it’s just things like that. We’re just in sync on the court,” Melko said.
“I spend a lot of time off the court with him as well, and I think just spending a lot of time together on top of playing together in high school has really helped us know each other’s games,” Solomon said.
Now in their redshirt junior season, the two old friends have limited time to recapture their championship ways, but they are prepared to make the most of that time and return Fairmont State to the stage they were at just a few short seasons ago with their unique bond on the court.
“We want to win championships — regular season, conference, regional, national, all of that. We just want to win,” Melko said.
“I would love to close out my career with another Elite 8 trip — we were both on that team in 2016-2017, and hopefully now we can help get us back there,” Solomon said.