Each Friday we will count down the 10 greatest basketball players in the history of Virginia Tech. This week we reflect on, and talk with, the newest Hokie to make the NBA..
Zabian Dowdell | 6’3″ Guard | 2003-07 | Personal Page
INTERVIEW WITH ZABIAN DOWDELL:
- How does it feel to be considered one of the 10 greatest Hokie basketball players of all time?
- When you first got to Virginia Tech, what were your goals as a Hokie?
- What were the keys to your growth as a player at VT?
- Looking back on your Hokie career, what are you most proud of?
- You just completed your first NBA season, appearing in 24 games and averaging 5.0 ppg, 2.1 apg, and 0.8 steals. Give me your assessment of how you did and the feedback you got from the team?
- What have they told you about this offseason and next year in terms of you?
ZD: Its definitely an honor when you think of some of the guys who have worn a Tech jersey like Bimbo Coles, Dell Curry, and Ace Custis just to name a few.
ZD: I came to Tech with a chip on my shoulder being that I wasn’t a guy who was highly recruited coming out of high school and at the time no one really respected Tech basketball. I mainly wanted to show people that we could win and become a respectable program throughout the country.
ZD: My work ethic allowed me to grow and get better as a player every year at Tech. I took advantage of every offseason to work on my game.
ZD: The fact that we made it to the NCAA Tournament my senior year. It was like the culmination of a 4 year journey and we finally reached our ultimate goal.
ZD: I feel like I could have been a lot better but I’m always going to feel that way because that’s just who I am. I had some good moments and some bad moments but overall I’m pleased. As a player earning the respect of your teammates is a big deal. I was able to do that this season and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
ZD: Everyone has been stressing staying hungry and continuing to work to get better. Nothing is guaranteed for next year but that won’t change anything as far as the offseason goes. I’m going all out like I always do.
- Points: 1785 (8th)
- Points per Game: 14.6
- Assists: 380 (6th)
- Steals: 241 (3rd)
- First Team All-ACC his senior year (1st Hokie to accomplish this)
- Named to the All-ACC Defensive Team twice
- Led the Hokies in scoring his last three years (14.4, 15.3, and 17.4)
- Led the Hokies in steals his junior year
- Reached double figures in points in his first 41 ACC games
- Made his NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns on 1/11/11
- One of the original arm-curl victims of Niemo
Why He’s in the Top 10:
Dowdell was the star of a Hokie team that vaulted Virginia Tech from the depths of despair to heights they hadn’t seen in years (more on that below in the Team Record section). He’s in the top 10 in points, assists, and steals. Need I say more? OK, I will…
Zabian is a classic example of what you can achieve if you work your tail off. He came to VT as a not-so-highly regarded recruit, ranked as a 2 or 3-star recruit by most services despite being First Team All-Florida his junior and senior year (a broken ankle the summer before his senior year kept him off the circuit).
Dowdell was not a star as a freshman. Dowdell shot just 38% from the field, 31% from 3-point range, and 69% from the line. The summer between his freshman and sophomore years saw a transformation with Zabian, and that was due to countless hours in the gym.
Zabian’s sophomore year saw Dowdell blossom into a star, picking right up where Bryant “Opie” Matthews had left off. Dowdell shot 45% from the field, 42% from 3-point range, and 71% from the charity stripe. Those were significant improvements in the first two areas. His points per game went up from 10.8 to 14.4. He also showed how clutch he could be, hitting the go ahead basket to lead the Hokies to a 67-65 win over #7 duke in Blacksburg. This was the same blue devil team that had beaten the Hokies by 35 in Durham earlier that season. Yeah, that was a sweet win.
Dowdell’s junior year… yeah, let’s just skip that. Not because of anything Zabian did. It was just a tragic disaster. He did average over 15 ppg though and was named to the All-Defensive Team.
Zabian’s senior year Tech was back under the radar. But Hokie fans knew they were good, and Dowdell was the best of the bunch. Dowdell took another step forward, showing a deadly runner. It made him all but unstoppable on offense – an ability to hit the 3, drive to the tin, or pull up. Dowdell scored 17.4 ppg, 7th best in the ACC. He also finished 2nd in the ACC in steals (behind teammate Jamon Gordon). That led to Zabian making First Team All-ACC, and joining the All-Defensive Team a second year in a row.
Dowdell was a star on both ends of the floor, and that is why he was a lock for this list. While he was great offensively, he was every bit as good on defense. He was one of the best on-ball defenders Tech has ever had at the guard position. What doesn’t show with his 241 steals is how many passes he deflected. Dowdell and Gordon were a nightmare for opposing offenses, forcing them to work so hard to feed the ball inside.
Zabian’s finest effort was in the game at unc in 2006-07. Tech had already knocked off #1 unc in Blacksburg earlier that season, but had to face #4 unc in Chapel Hill where VT had not won in 40 years. In that game, Zabian had a career-high 33 points on 7/15 from the field and 17/19 from the free throw line. But it goes beyond that. Dowdell basically carried the offense, scoring 23 of VT’s 28 points over a 17 minute stretch. He also had six of Tech’s eight points in overtime and helped stop Ty Lawson’s attempt at the end of overtime to win it, and the Hokies won 81-80 in their first trip to Chapel Hill as a member of the ACC. This win showed the win in Blacksburg was not a fluke, and that VT could play with anyone anywhere (other than nc state).
Team Record: 67-56 (7-9 in the Big East, 22-26 in the ACC)
It surprised me to look back on VT’s record in Dowdell’s first three years and realize they were only 45-44. It seemed like they were much better than that. But I think that has to do with how bad Virginia Tech was before Dowdell, Jamon Gordon, and Coleman Collins arrived. Here’s how bad they were:
- Tech was 30-54 overall in the 3 years before Zabian arrived
- The Hokies were 10-38 in the Big East in those 3 years, their first 3 years in the league
- VT did not qualify for the Big East Tournament in those 3 years
- ricky “program bomb” stokes was their coach
In Zabian’s freshman year, the Hokies went 7-9 in the Big East, qualified for the Big East Tournament, and finished over .500. That may not sound like much, but that was about five times better than the Hokies had been in previous years. This was the only time in 4 years in the Big East that Tech qualified for the conference tourney. And they even won their opening round game.
Tech joined the ACC the next year. Many Hokie fans, me included, wondered how many YEARS it would be before Virginia Tech won a single ACC game. It ended up taking just three games as the Hokies knocked off clemson at home. Some how, some way, the Hokies managed to go 8-8 in a very good ACC that year and went into the ACC Tournament as the #4 seed! That leads me to my favorite Zabian moment…
My favorite Zabian moment is his three-pointer he hit with 16 seconds left to put VT ahead of the #7 duke blue devils in 2005. The blue devils were unable to hit a shot to win the game at the end, and VT had a 67-65 landmark victory that helped turn the program around (Jeff King, anyone?). It was sweet revenge for a 35 point loss earlier in the season to duke and coach k. Dowdell was as clutch as could be that season, and when that three went up, you knew it was going in. He was automatic.
In Zabian’s junior year, the tragedies the team dealt with were immense — from deaths in families, to Katrina displacing Deron’s mom, to Allen Calloway (forward on the team) developing cancer that would ultimately take his life. That clearly spilled over on to the court. Starting with the loss at #1 duke on a 44-foot shot at the buzzer (else VT would have won), the season went down the tubes. Tech started out 0-6 in ACC play and finished 4-12.
Zabe’s senior year was magical. The Hokies went 22-12 and made the ncaa tournament for the first time in 11 years, going in as a #5 seed. Tech won at #5 duke, avenging the heartbreaking loss from a year before, beat #1 unc at home, and won at #4 unc. Tech also knocked off illinois in the ncaa tournament before losing to southern illinois.
The Hokies are darn lucky to have Zabian in their top 10. He originally planned to play for Coach Greenberg in his home state of Florida at the u… of south florida. But he followed Coach to Blacksburg and became the Hokie from Pahokee. So instead of reading about him on BullsHoops.com, we got him all to ourselves. Thank goodness.
When VT needed a big shot, he hit it. When they needed a stop, he got it. And the best complement I can pay him (other then the fact he’s a great person) is he got better every year as a player. Zabian made a lot of people Virginia Tech basketball fans, including many that had turned their backs on the program during the dark years (me included, I’ll admit).
February 2011 Interview with Zabian: