Dowdell Undrafted, Undaunted
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Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM | July 12, 2007
The designation could have been cold comfort for Zabian Dowdell. The combo guard from Virginia Tech was widely considered the best player to go unselected when the 2007 NBA Draft wrapped up. Projected to go 33rd overall by ESPN Insider Chad Ford the morning of the Draft and with a chance to potentially even go late in the first round, Dowdell instead fell out of both rounds.

"I think it's better to go undrafted than to get drafted in the second round because there's more freedom," Dowdell reflected this week while playing for the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Summer League.

"When he arrived the Virginia Tech program was in some dark days. He is somebody that could be seen as a catalyst in that turnaround."
Steeter Lecka/Getty Images
Even before the Draft concluded, Dowdell heard from the Sonics, who had shown interest in him before the Draft, considering him with their two picks early in the second round. New Assistant GM Scott Perry delivered the sales pitch that convinced Dowdell to join the Sonics for the summer.

"Scott did a great job of making sure that Zabian knew that we valued him and that this would be a good opportunity for him," said Sonics GM Sam Presti.

"Trying to figure out what each team is doing and how that will change the rest of the Draft and who might be falling deep into the second round and ultimately out of the Draft, that's a whole other facet to the Draft that most people don't ever see.

"Scott did a wonderful job Draft night of not just projecting possible scenarios but also communicating effectively during the second round to make sure that we had good opportunities and were able to lay out our approach and our plan to potential players who went undrafted."

After trading both of their second-round picks, the Sonics had plenty of room on their summer-league roster. Added to that, none of the five players under contract to the Sonics on their summer-league roster - first-round picks Kevin Durant and Jeff Green and Sonics veterans MickaŽl Gelabale, Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene - play point guard, meaning there were minutes to be had at Dowdell's primary position.

As a result, Dowdell "didn't hesitate to take the offer" from the Sonics.

In explaining why they took notice of Dowdell at Virginia Tech, the Sonics front office points first not to his selection as First Team All-ACC and an Honorable Mention AP All-American as a senior. What really impressed them about Dowdell was his role in turning the Hokies into winners.

Along with teammates Coleman Collins and Jamon Gordon - both, like Dowdell, playing in the NBA Summer League here in Las Vegas - Dowdell helped take a Virginia Tech program that had gone .500 or better just once in seven seasons prior to their arrival to 22 wins in 2006-07. Included was the Hokies' first NCAA Tournament win since 1996.

"I think the first thing when you're talking about Zabian as a player is that when he arrived the Virginia Tech program was in some dark days," said Presti. "By the time he left, they had kind of turned the program around to an elite program in the NCAA. He is somebody that could be seen as a catalyst in that turnaround."

"I started watching Zabian when he was a sophomore in college at Virginia Tech," added Perry. "I just watched him each year from that point, watched him grow and develop as a player, watched him become an integral part of taking a team that was not as strong a program in terms of wins and losses to the point where they became an NCAA Tournament team his senior year."

As the front office seeks to build a culture for the Sonics, Dowdell fits as the type of player and person they are looking to add. He drew notice for donating $5,000 to the families of victims of the tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus this spring.

Presti points to Dowdell's love for the game and willingness to compete, which led him to attend the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, skipped by most players who expect to get drafted, and work out for teams around the country leading up to the draft. (Ironically, Dowdell never worked out for the Sonics. He saw his connecting flight from Dallas cancelled due to inclement weather and was unable to make it to Seattle for his scheduled workout two days prior to the Draft. Dowdell did work out in front of Presti and Perry when they were still in San Antonio and Detroit, respectively.)

"The guy is a hard worker, great character kid," said Perry. "Like I mentioned, has worked through some tough times at Virginia Tech to help the team become good. He's a guy that loves to play the game. Those are all qualities that we think are going to be very important going forward to identifying future Sonics basketball players. Those are qualities that he has and obviously it's going to be up to him to keep developing and competing and show what he can do."

Dowdell started for the Sonics in their NBA Summer League opener last Friday but struggled, shooting 1-of-7 from the field in 16 minutes of action. He played better in limited time on Sunday before putting together his best performance Wednesday against Milwaukee, scoring seven points and running the team well during the first half, when the Sonics led by as many as 12 points.

As a rookie at a position where experience is at a premium, Dowdell is in a tough spot. In their first three games, the Sonics have faced three point guards with NBA experience. Known as a scorer first in college - he averaged 17.4 points per game as a senior - Dowdell knows the Sonics are watching his ability to run a team and make good decisions with the basketball.

"I don't think they're looking for somebody to score," he said. "All I'm going to do is play defense, if I get a shot, knock it down and mostly run the team."

Whether he ultimately proves the right fit in Seattle or not, Dowdell's future looks promising, regardless of the fact that he was not drafted.

"He's a guy that I think you have to watch closely to appreciate all the little things he does effectively on the basketball court," said Presti. "He's a crafty guard. I think that he's someone that can be used in a number of different ways by a coach and ultimately his competitiveness and his instincts on the court will serve him well in his professional career."