Niemo spoke with the first Hokie to make the NBA in quite a while, Zabian Dowdell. Dowdell had a banner career at VT, making the All-ACC First Team as a senior and the All-ACC Defensive Team twice. He is 8th on Tech’s all-time scoring list, 6th in assists, and 3rd in steals.
The interview is broken up into three parts (the audio is linked above with the transcript below):
- He Made It (Link) – We discuss his tryout with the Phoenix Suns, making a NBA team to fulfill his boyhood letter (‘I Will Make It’), and life in the NBA so far.
- NBA Dreamin’ – Zabian talks about not getting drafted, playing overseas, and then going to the NBA Developmental League.
- The Hokie from Pahokee – We talk about his time at Tech with Coach Greenberg, his former teammates, VT, and his favorite memories — including being arm-curled by yours truly.
|Niemo:||This is Niemo from Techhoops.com. I’m joined by Zabian Dowdell, the newest Hokie to join the NBA fraternity. [In this segment we focus on the time after Z left VT and was working towards the NBA.]|
|Niemo:||I bet at times, it seemed like you’d never make the NBA. Walk me through, when you first left Virginia Tech and didn’t get drafted – how disappointing was that for you?|
|Dowdell:||It was very disappointing, but at the same time, you kind of have to realize what type of business you’re in, and I just used that as fuel for the fire. I always kept it in mind. I still keep it in mind to this day, when I’m working out in the summer or whenever I’m working out, I just use that as motivation.|
|Niemo:||What were some of the reasons they gave you – scouts or NBA executives – for why they didn’t see you as an NBA player at first coming out of Tech?|
|Dowdell:||A lot of people said I wasn’t a point guard and, there’s some bogus reasons, but, at the end of the day, I mean, I’m here now, and, hopefully I plan on staying.|
|Niemo:||Walk me through some of the places you’ve played since that point – overseas and whatnot.|
|Dowdell:||Oh, man, I played in my first year out, I played in France. My second year out, I played in Italy, and last year, after I recovered from my groin injury, I played in Spain. So yeah, I kind of traveled the globe a bit.|
|Niemo:||What was your favorite place to play?|
|Dowdell:||Italy. That may be my favorite place to play because it was my team. The coach allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do, and we had a good group of guys. And the city pretty much embraced me, so that was probably my most enjoyable year.|
|Niemo:||Food’s not too bad either, is it?|
|Dowdell:||Ah, man well, if you like pasta, no. But I definitely had a good dose of that. But other than that man it was a great experience.|
|Niemo:||What was the roughest place you had to play?|
|Dowdell:||The roughest place I had to play. Maybe my first game, my first regular season game in Italy. We were on the road and, the fans were going crazy, and like the seats kind of hung over the court. They were very close to the court. The fans were throwing paper planes and, just all kinds of stuff on the floor. I was like man is this how it’s going to be over here?|
|Niemo:||It’s kind of like playing in Yankee Stadium I guess.|
|Dowdell:||Oh man it was crazy, no order.|
|Niemo:||What were some of the toughest adjustments of playing abroad for you?|
|Dowdell:||I guess the game over there, they put a lot of focus on fundamentals. I got called for travelling a lot, just like a lot of the American guys that make that transition. You just have to kind of slow down when you play over there, and kind of work on the passing and the shooting. Because you have to be able to shoot over there if you want to score. There’s no 3 second rule over there. I guess just the style of play, really. It’s not really an up and down game over there, there’s more half court. So that would really count as the biggest adjustment for me.|
|Niemo:||Last year and then the first part of this year you were playing in Tulsa. What’s it like playing in the NBA D league?|
|Dowdell:||That’s a grind. It’s a grind definitely. A lot of guys hoping to be called up, and there are a lot of guys who need to work on certain things to improve their chances of being called up. So every day the coaches stress development, and just getting in the gym, working out, trying to improve. That mindset was good for me. As a player you always want to be in the environment where you’re not content with what you are – you’re always trying to get better.|
|Niemo:||And were there any points where you started to consider giving up the game or, trying something different?|
|Dowdell:||No, I’m just a guy that loves to play the game, so whether it’d be here or somewhere in Russia, I’m still going to be playing. But at the same time, there was definitely a timetable as to how much longer I was going to be making sacrifices, just to make it to the NBA. But other than that I’ve never really considered giving the game up altogether. I love the game too much to do that.|
|Niemo:||So eventually you would have, if things weren’t working out in terms of the NBA, you would have reconsidered some of the abroad offers you had?|
|Dowdell:||Yeah, definitely, I mean you have to be smart about things like that. That was definitely something that was going to have to happen soon too.|
|Niemo:||Virginia Tech obviously has another guard this year who has been a first team ACC player, much like yourself, who was overlooked in the draft last year and was not predicted to be drafted in either round. Why do you think Virginia Tech players, especially you and Malcolm Delaney, have been overlooked by scouts and NBA executives?|
|Dowdell:||That’s a great question. I guess the biggest thing I can think of is the amount of exposure we get as far as basketball goes. It has definitely gotten better, since the time I came and left, but a lot of people still don’t look at the school as a basketball school. And they really don’t get a lot of respect in the basketball department. But, I mean, I still think that if you’re a good player, you continue to work, you just continue to do the things you need to do, then eventually people will find it. It just happens.|
|Niemo:||Final question for you. What was the best advice you got in the years when you were still trying to make the NBA? What really stuck with you?|
|Dowdell:||You know, I think one of the best things a player told me, and this was at Suns training camp this year, Chucky Atkins, obviously he’s a veteran guy. We were playing pick-up and, I think he had been there a couple of days but he really didn’t know who I was. He was kind of asking about my situation and stuff and he was like, he went through the same kind of situation. Had to wait a couple years after school before he got his chance at the NBA and he made the most of it and he was just like, man, the best thing you can do is just keep playing. Just keep your head up. I just think coming from a guy like Chucky who’s been on this level and, just for him to say that to me he could have just been like, man, I’m competing with this guy for a spot. I don’t need to help this guy at all but he reached out to me. Man, that was real big coming from a guy like that.|