Who knew a kid from Jacksonville, Florida would become one of the faces to alter the trajectory of Virginia Tech basketball? 1,280 points, 585 rebounds, 514 assists, and 290 steals later that’s exactly the legacy that Jamon Gordon cemented, having made the trek to Blacksburg and finding his new home alongside Zabian Dowdell and Coleman Collins in the 2003 recruiting class.
However, it wasn’t always that straightforward. Gordon signed with the Hokies in 2002 under Ricky Stokes, who was then fired in 2003 after three straight losing seasons. It opened the door for Gordon to explore other possibilities.
Florida started recruiting the in-state talent harder, but Gordon always had his sights set out-of-state. Georgia Tech was the ideal destination, but other circumstances prevented the 6-foot-3 guard from landing there.
“I really wanted to go to Georgia Tech,” Gordon said. “That was probably the main place I wanted to go first. They ended up taking another big man because I took so long to qualify [academically].”
That’s when Dowdell came into the equation. The duo had always heard of each other throughout the basketball circles in Florida, but never met. Instead, a quasi-rivalry had formed over the years as is normally the case between players from the northern part of Florida (Gordon) and those from the southern part (Dowdell).
It wasn’t until a Florida vs. Georgia high school all-star game that Gordon and Dowdell found themselves on the same court. The result? Instant chemistry.
“We got in the game together and it seemed like we just clicked,” Gordon said. “The first time we’ve ever been on the court together [and] we were passing each other the ball and talking more in the game.”
Seth Greenberg was hired as Virginia Tech’s head coach after seven years at South Florida. The Sunshine State connection allowed Greenberg and Gordon to have a previous relationship before he even began his tenure in Blacksburg.
Greenberg set up meetings with Gordon and Dowdell individually and set the vision for all that could happen if they made the journey north with him to Southwest Virginia. It was simple for Gordon. He saw how special it was when Dowdell and him were on the floor together.
“I ended up telling Zabian, ‘If you go, I go.’ That’s how it went,” Gordon said. “We just went together.”
And so Gordon, Dowdell and Collins entered a basketball program that had seen its fair share of losing. Over the past three seasons, the Hokies had won just 10 conference games. There was no enthusiasm in the fanbase.
That began to change in the 2003-2004 season when Bryant Matthews and the freshman trio led the Hokies to a 15-14 record and 7-9 conference record in the final year in the Big East.
“I remember the football fans and the football players starting embracing us after our freshman year,” Gordon said. “The basketball team was down, even my freshman year we didn’t have a great year, but everybody respected us, especially the freshman class. Once coach Greenberg got a lot of the players to buy in our sophomore year going into the ACC, we had so much support.”
Gordon finished his freshman season averaging 9.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. It was the start of the typical statline that would be seen over his career as the Hokies’ glue guy.
Despite disappointing results record-wise over the next two seasons, Gordon continued to establish himself as a player not afraid to do the dirty work. For a guard who was just 6-foot-3, Gordon worked assiduously on the boards, grabbing 14 rebounds against Wake Forest and 16 against Clemson as a junior.
“If I can get the rebound, I can push the ball,” Gordon said. “I don’t have to wait for anybody to get it to me. I’ve always guarded players bigger than me, so it was easier for me to get rebounds by being closer to the basket instead of guarding the point guard where you’re away.
“My coach always told me that the players that are going to stay in the game are the guys who play defense and rebound. I know I wasn’t the best scorer, so I knew I had to be the best defender. We were small for most of the years, so I had to help rebound. It kind of came naturally.”
Gordon was often the toughest guy on the court. From a young age, he molded himself into the lockdown defender who was a menace for the opposing offense. It resulted in the Jacksonville native earning two ACC All-Defensive Team honors and the 2007 ACC Defensive Player of the Year selection as a senior.
“I was always a defender because I always wasn’t the best player on my teams growing up,” Gordon said. “I had some unbelievable dudes on my AAU team. I always played up [a level], so I had to find a way on the court. I would play defense to get me in the game. Once I figured out that I could play defense to get in the game, all I had to do was start working on my offense.
“I was never afraid. I always wanted to take the best guy. I was OK if a guy scored on me because I know I was going to give him everything I had on the defensive end.”
Gordon’s senior year was the tipping point when all the potential of the Hokies became actualized. Dowdell took the next step and became a dominant force, averaging 17.4 points en route to a First Team All-ACC selection. The progression of Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo gave Tech more scoring options, and Gordon stayed true to his junkyard dog mentality, doing whatever the team needed him to do to be successful.
“That year I kind of took a step back and tried to play a lot more team ball than the year before where I was probably scoring a little more,” Gordon said. “It was great. Coach let us play. The year before he kind of controlled us and made his ways as a defensive team who slowed the game down, but our senior year he let us go. He watched us mature over the years and everything worked out great.”
The team’s first harbinger for the wild ride to come occurred when the Hokies upset No. 5 Duke 69-67 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Just a year prior, Greenberg and Co. experienced heartbreak when Sean Dockery nailed a game-winning three just inside half-court to send the home crowd into a frenzy and shock the Hokies. This time, Gordon hit the game-winning floater in the lane with just over 30 seconds remaining to give Virginia Tech its first win in program history at Cameron.
“The funny thing was we went from my sophomore year just hoping that the game would be close to we knew we were going to beat them,” Gordon said. “That was the whole mindset. We weren’t scared. We were supposed to beat them the year before, but they had so many great players – JJ [Redick], Sheldon Williams, and so many people. We knew we were going to beat them our senior year. They were kind of having a down year that year, but beating Duke is still Duke.
“I remember a couple of those shots before I got the ball at the end. Zabian had missed a couple easy shots at the end. I remember the play that coach called. I knew exactly what I was going to do, getting to the basket and shooting my floater. It just so happened that it went in. It was almost luck. I remember shooting the shot, but it came off my hand wrong, but it just hit perfectly. It was kind of meant to be.”
Following a series sweep of North Carolina and a season that concluded with a 10-6 conference record, Virginia Tech heard its name called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 1996.
“Still to this day it’s one of the craziest feelings that you can ever have,” Gordon said. “You can actually feel all the games and all the buzzer beaters and all the shots and crazy stuff going on. I remember me and Zabian had an interview with CBS Sports and we were just thinking, ‘Man, we’ll watch this on TV,’ never thinking you’d be here or take VT to the tournament, because it’d been a while since we’d been to the tournament.”
The Hokies entered as the No. 5 seed and rallied to beat Illinois 54-52 after trailing by 10 with 4:20 remaining. Gordon and Co. eventually fell in the next round to Southern Illinois, 63-48. One of the best backcourts in Virginia Tech history had played its last game together, but that was far from the end of the relationship between Gordon and Dowdell.
“I found a brother,” Gordon said. “We were the same size. He’s left-handed, I’m left-handed. What I wasn’t good at, he was good at. The things he wasn’t good at, I was good at. We helped each other and pushed each other. We were fierce competitors against each other. We were always together at all times.
“After all of this time, I’ll never forget the time when he finally got the chance in the NBA, he switched his number (No. 1) to my number (No. 22) and he told everyone the reason why was because if one made it, we both had to make it. He’s like another brother. Our families are close. Everything. From that day we met, we’ve been tight ever since.”
Following his career at Virginia Tech, Gordon carved out a 10-year career overseas with the majority of his time spent in Turkey and Greece. With six years in the EuroLeague, the highest league in Europe, Gordon finished top 10 in EuroLeague history in steals. A championship escaped him, but Gordon still looks back in appreciation of those 10 years.
He made memories that will last a lifetime with his daughter. Different countries embraced Gordon and his style of play that Virginia Tech fans fell in love with in the years prior. It really shaped Gordon into the complete individual he is today.
“It taught me to be open-minded,” Gordon said. “Look at life differently. Learn and read more. Not just being controlled by the television and what you see in the states. Learn about other people’s religions. And becoming a man on the fly. When you’re overseas, no one is caring for you, no one is holding your hand. They put you in an apartment, force you to learn how to cook. You’re fresh out of college and there’s a lot of stuff you have to learn to do on your own. I think I became a man overseas.”
Gordon insists that he could have played longer, but instead he retired in 2017 to spend more time with his daughter.
“A lot of people say I was one of the best point guards ever over there with just the way I played,” Gordon said. “I tried to play the same at Virginia Tech, I probably just got a little better on the offensive end [overseas]. I made a lot of great friends. I think I had a great career.
“Everything came from Tech. Tech showed me a lot. It helped me a lot. Not just Coach Greenberg, but Coach [Ryan] Odom, Coach Greenberg’s brother [Brad], and even Coach [Mike] Gentry in the weight room. That helped me a lot too.”
Gordon is back in Jacksonville helping coach at Andrew Jackson High School where he made his own impression on the hardwood as a budding basketball star. He continually gives back to his community by training kids and helping them see a better way out of their own situations.
The journey ahead is unknown, but Gordon intends to find a path into NBA coaching. Still, when Gordon returns to Blacksburg, the basketball savant steadies himself and reflects on the career that placed Virginia Tech basketball back on the map.
“[I] left for 10 years and remember coming back to Cassell crying because of these memories I’ve had in here,” Gordon said. “Those four years are something I’ll never forget.”