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#8 Zabian Dowdell | 10 Greatest VT Players of All Time | INCLUDES Q&A WITH ZABIAN DOWDELL

#8 Zabian Dowdell | 10 Greatest VT Players of All Time | INCLUDES Q&A WITH ZABIAN DOWDELL

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..

#10 Bill Matthews

#9 Jeff Allen

Zabian Dowdell | 6’3″ Guard | 2003-07Personal Page


  1. How does it feel to be considered one of the 10 greatest Hokie basketball players of all time?
  2. 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.

  3. When you first got to Virginia Tech, what were your goals as a Hokie?
  4. 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.

  5. What were the keys to your growth as a player at VT?
  6. 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.

  7. Looking back on your Hokie career, what are you most proud of?
  8. 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.

  9. 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?
  10. 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.

  11. What have they told you about this offseason and next year in terms of you?
  12. 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.

Career Numbers:

  • Points: 1785 (8th)
  • Points per Game: 14.6
  • Assists: 380 (6th)
  • Steals: 241 (3rd)

Of Note:

  • 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.

Greatest Game:

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, 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:

  1. Part 1 – He Made It (the NBA)
  2. Part 2 – NBA Dreamin
  3. Part 3 – The VT Years

2007 Hokie Celebration

2007 Hokie Celebration

This post was written by:

- who has written 1284 posts on Tech Hoops.

Niemo is a member of the VT Class of '98. While not a professional journalist by any stretch, Niemo analyzes and breaks down every minute of Hokie hoop action. He also researches topics of interest such as Hokie recruits, program revenue, statistical data on the team, previews VT opponents, and discusses his favorite bourbons/Scotches. In addition to his passion for Hokie hoops, Niemo has attended 126 straight VT football home games (every game since '94), eclipsing the 100 mark in September of '09 and recently attended his 20th consecutive VT/uva game. During the final home basketball game of his senior year, he was brought onto the court and was awarded 2 passes to the Atlantic 10 Basketball Tournament in Philly during a timeout for being a "Super Fan" during his time at VT. The Hokie Bird made the award on behalf of Athletic Director Jim Weaver. Niemo was known to be in the front row of every home game with his familiar red afro hairdo.

Contact the author | Visit the author's website | Follow Niemo on Twitter

7 Responses to “#8 Zabian Dowdell | 10 Greatest VT Players of All Time | INCLUDES Q&A WITH ZABIAN DOWDELL”

  1. Chris says:

    I’m INCREDIBLY disheartened by the fact that Zabian finishes this low on this list. If it were my list, he’d be 3rd to only Curry and Coles, with Custis and Bristow close behind. Zabe may not have put up the numbers of a Delaney, but he was the consummate team player, and was more than capable in some areas where Delaney was deficient. Of course Delaney has more skill, but I think Zabe made more of his.

  2. chuck says:

    Zabian is better than Delaney by virtue of having made the tourney with Jamon and 1/2 of what Coleman Collins showed he could have been. Yes, Deron was a contributor, but often times not a factor. This team that just graduated was better on paper, and in a lot of the pundits eyes…they were a failure, IMO. Not individually, but collectively.

    Amazing to me was the FT #s that Dowdell put up IN Chapel Hill…i daresay there have been few who have gotten whistles in Chapel Hill to the tune of 19 trips to the charity stripe…i love sticking it to Roy even more than K, so I’d reverse the moments personally, Niemo.

    A lot of good athletes hail from Pahokee…but don’t get the recognition by the Star Services…

    Shoot, just staying in Blacksburg, he was apparently putting his loved ones at risk (per that Junior Year you briefly alluded to)…a lot of mental strength and guts in Dowdell.

    BTW, unfortunate news about ZD and his end to his initial NBA foray….the whole biz about the ref/racial slur/subsequent fining/and turtling of the NBA, backing up that official….i saw the incident, and ZD just doesn’t get that fired up over nothing…Director of Officiating, a complete tool, said our ref was inappropriate, but didn’t say what the player said he said, essentially calling ZD a liar…i’d be bitter.

    Anyhow, hopefully that incident doesn’t cloud teams judgement when it comes to next year. His success, and extended 10 day tenure should have been an assist to him getting picked up out of camp next year. Fingers crossed, it’s nice to have Hokies in the league.

  3. LuvzAznChix says:

    Not only did we make the tourney with Dowdell & Gordon, but we were a 5 seed & we advanced passed the first round.

    • Niemo says:

      Guys – who cares they made the tourney ONE year. That does not decide who the best is. Based on your argument, Trent Dilfer is better than Dan Marino. And let’s not forget the team of Dowdell & Gordon also went 4-12 in the ACC one year (yes, I realize there were a lot of circumstances behind that, but still – it is what it is – the team this year overcame a LOT). The worst this past crop ever finished in the ACC was 7-9.

  4. chuck says:

    One tourney is still better than none last i checked, and that group set the table for this current group who underachieved in an underwhelming ACC. They certainly allowed for Seth to gather this current collection of talent. Maybe one day we can say Delaney and Allen led to us getting the talent that allowed us to move into a premier national program.

    The ACC that Zabian navigated was by the numbers, tougher than the one Delaney navigated. By sheer # of ACC entries in the NCAA tourney it was less formidable in these past 4 years than during Zabian’s 4 years.

    This team didn’t overcome death and cancer in 8 teammates lives in one year, that year was truly the worst year any team has ever had, a couple of injuries aside…you can’t throw that year out when it suits you and apply it when it suits you. That team healthy probably makes it to two tournaments.

    • Niemo says:

      Chuck – check the subject of this list – Greatest PLAYERS. Not teams. Should that be a factor? Sure. But Bimbo Coles never played in a ncaa tournament or NIT game. 3 of his 4 teams finished under .500. So that must mean Dowdell or Watlington are better than Coles, right? Nope. BAM! Roasted.


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