They Have Each Other's Backs

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 12 -- Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell, when they're not watching film or shooting jumpers together, sit in front of their television screen, mashing buttons and trying to outsmart each other in the video game Halo.

Gordon and Dowdell, Virginia Tech's starting back court, usually fail, instead playing to a standstill. It's not that they haven't mastered the game; it's just that neither can surprise the other.

"It's hard to compete against somebody that knows everything you do, and knows everything you like, knows your favorite moves," Gordon said.

After rooming together for nearly four seasons, starting a combined 163 games and carrying a basketball team, there is little each doesn't know about the other. Gordon and Dowdell have become synonymous with Virginia Tech basketball and inseparable as friends while turning into one of the best back courts in the ACC.

That was evidenced last weekend in Virginia Tech's victory over Duke, during which they exposed Blue Devils point guard Greg Paulus. It will be tested again Saturday, when the Hokies host No. 1 North Carolina (15-1, 2-0).

"It puts them in a position to play against anyone," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Hokies (12-4, 2-0). "Because of those two guards."

When Gordon's family calls him, they ask about Dowdell before they ask about him. Both are left-handed and 6 feet 3. They like the same clothes. They listen to the same music.

"You don't run into too many people in life that are just like you," Gordon said. "It's like we're just brothers. If I have any problems, he comes in and talks to me. We ain't got too many secrets between each other.

"If you see him, you're going to see me. When I came here, I was just going to be quiet. I don't know if I would have stayed here long, I don't know if I would have came here if I never met Zabian."

Gordon and Dowdell met during their senior year at a high school all-star game in Florida -- Gordon is from Jacksonville, Dowdell from tiny Pahokee. Gordon had heard of Dowdell -- in one set of player rankings, he was ranked No. 2 in the state, one slot ahead of Dowdell -- but they had never been introduced. They were paired at random as roommates during the week of the game.

On the first morning after they arrived, Gordon heard a knock at the door at 7 a.m. and implored Dowdell not to answer it, even though he knew why someone wanted him awake: He needed to take the ACT to qualify for college. Still, he didn't budge.

"Man, you might need to get up and take it," Dowdell told him.

"For some reason," Gordon said, "I listened."

Gordon lumbered out of bed and took the test for the seventh time. For the first time, he passed.

He had already decided on Virginia Tech, but he had been recruited by Ricky Stokes, who was fired and replaced by Seth Greenberg. Gordon waffled on whether to look elsewhere. After Gordon spent a week with Dowdell, he was convinced he wanted to spend his college years playing next to him.

"If you go, I go," Gordon told Dowdell.

Dowdell was the first player Greenberg signed after arriving, so he wasn't going anywhere but Virginia Tech, and Greenberg had his back court for the next four seasons.

By now, each knows exactly where the other likes to shoot and how he likes to receive passes. They can still anger and irk each other or yell at one another without being contentious, like only best friends can.

"On the court, if I mess up I'll get on him, and if I mess up he'll get back on me," Gordon said. "If you saw us in practice, you'd think we hate each other, just trying to outdo each other. That's my best friend."

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