“I Wanted and Needed the Big Stage” – Zion Tordoff, in His Own Words

I grew up in a town called Bradford in England. That’s not something you traditionally hear from a student attending Marist College, a school plopped in the middle of the Tri-State area, right? Allow me to give you some insight into how exactly I got here.

I was brought up by both of my parents, Daniel and Susan Tordoff. They have always been incredibly supportive of me in everything I do. They motivate me most; I strive to be successful so that I can make them proud. They consistently come to all of my games – no matter how big or small it was in venue or magnitude — traveling hours day by day just to see me play.

My first love of sport wasn’t basketball, but soccer – er, football. I started at the age of nine and made it to the academy level, proudly representing the Bradford City club. When I entered high school, I continued with soccer (shoot, have I been in America that long?), but met the head sports coach – Mr. Ward – a humongous basketball fan who, coincidentally, used to coach against my dad back when he was in high school. I had no idea Bradford was actually that small of a world.

I was still completely enthralled in soccer when I first started school, but when Mr. Ward invited me to come along to basketball sessions, I couldn’t help but not. Over time, I started becoming more and more interested in the game. At first, soccer was always the priority; I had played it for a longer period of time and I was playing at an admirably high level. But my enjoyment and appreciation for basketball started to develop immensely around the age of 12 and 13. I was introduced to structured practices, those that really helped to take my game to a new level. The driveway was fun, but this is what implemented a true understanding of the game, beyond the recreation of highlight plays with friends.

The appointment of my first coach, Tamas Okros, at my first basketball club, the Bradford Dragons, played an imperative part in my improvement as a basketball player. The understanding of basketball I gained there caused my attention and focus to drift away from football (there we go, back on track) and brought it all towards basketball. Chris Mellor, a lifelong friend of my dad’s and the head coach of the Bradford Dragons men’s team, was equally instrumental. Playing on the side was always something I enjoyed, but the structured game was something I gained a newfound passion for. 

I don’t care if what I’m about to say sounds cliché; it’s the truth. I have always been very serious about pursuing a professional career in basketball, as well as playing at the Division I level. Falling in love with the game was easy for me. What wasn’t entirely as easy – even though I was equally passionate about it – was making it to those desired high levels. Springboards on said journey came in the form of playing for my regional team, Yorkshire, and then national team, which was, well, England. I successfully made the team of 12 for the England U15 team and traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark for a tournament, my first experience playing international basketball. Talk about daunting, but talk about a dream come true first. Part of a dream, that is. From there, I’d vie to make the U16 team and hopefully find myself playing on a startlingly bigger stage. The tournament – the European Championships, a common destination for a 15-year-old kid – was held in Lithuania. Being selected was my main goal all year. I went to all the training camps; I practiced and competed non-stop. I made it to the final camp, where merely two players would be cut by its end, thus eliminating their chance at playing in the tournament. I had dreamt of the big stage. I wanted and needed the big stage. Like I said, only two players would miss out.

I was one of the two.

I couldn’t sleep that night, and it was constantly on my mind for weeks. But today, I’m grateful for that setback, if you will. It made me realize that I had to get better. Around this time, I was making my decision for where I’d be attending my last two years of high school. In England, we call this college, or attending sixth form. After a long process of thinking and communicating with many institutes, me and my parents thought it was best for my development and academics to attend Myerscough College.

Before attending Myerscough, I was selected to compete in the Deng Top 50 camp which came just after the European Championships finished. The camp was made up of the fifty best players in the nation, all competing against one another as well as going through workouts over a five-day period. By the end, the camp would announce a ranking of the top-20 performers. To start, I wasn’t on the initial list; instead, I was on the reserve list. After multiple players confirmed they couldn’t attend, I managed to make the list. For context: the “Deng Top 50” is named after Luol Deng, one of the most recognizable and few British faces in the NBA. Players from his camps have gone on to play for basketball programs like Texas Tech, Oregon, and even prep-academies like Notre Dame and Montverde. I was competing against guys two to three years older than me. This wasn’t threatening to me at all; I went in there with nothing to lose. At the end of the camp, I was ranked 16th, which was higher than any of the people who made the England U16 team who went to the European Championships.

Needless to say, this provided a bit of added motivation.

As soon as I arrived at Myerscough College, I knew it was the place to help me develop and eventually play Division I basketball. My teammates pushed me every single day; my coach and the head of the academy, Neal Hopkins, dedicated a ton of time to ensure that I became a better player. A typical day would involve individual practice at 7:30 a.m., class time between 9-12 p.m., academy practice and weights from 1-3 p.m., and team practice 6-7:30 p.m. The days were loaded; the weeks, too, with games on Wednesdays and over the weekend.

After a whole year of this, I figured it was time to compete (again) for a spot on the England U18 team. This time, I was competing against players my age and a year older. Let’s zip past the camps and the judgments: I was lucky enough to make the final 12 and be included in the starting five. It was a huge accomplishment for me in and of itself to make the team playing a year up, but the starting five? That was another level.

While we sadly didn’t succeed in our goal to reach promotion to Division B to Division A, we finished with a record of 5-3, a learning experience on its own (I’m seeing a bit of a pattern here as I recall all of this). After this, it was time to compete in the Deng Top 50 camp again.

I finished second in the rankings.

I was much more comfortable and confident coming into this camp, having done it before and knowing what it will be about, even though I had more of a target on my back. This helped to set strong foundations towards being recruited as I was going into my senior year of high school. Naturally, it was time for a setback.

Around Christmas time, I played in a tournament for the England U18 national team in a tournament and tore my meniscus. I was completely unaware of the injury until I got a scan four months later, which resulted in me having surgery; the recovery time was a formidable six to eight weeks. Around the time I was having my surgery, I made my decision to commit to Casper College, a junior college in Wyoming. I had no Division I offers out of high school, so I decided to go the junior college route, a stepping stone toward a hopeful career in Division I.

The first year carried with it a huge learning curve; my coach there, Dan Russell, worked to certify that I adapted seamlessly to a different style of play and learned how the college system works. Three games into the year, I re-tore my meniscus, which made practicing and playing difficult, but I decided to continue playing and finish the remaining part of the season before getting surgery when the season concluded. I had a good offseason – I recovered completely — which allowed me to come back for my sophomore year at Casper at 100-percent. This was an incredibly important year for me in terms of recruitment. I was surrounded by very talented players who pushed me in practice to get better every day. The coaching staff was incredibly influential in my recruiting process and development over the two years I was there. And we were successful, too; our record after the season ended was 32-3. We were ranked ninth in the entire country for junior colleges. We won the Region 9 championship after a 23-year drought. We made history, and six of the players went on to play Division I.

I first came in contact with Marist College – more specifically, coach Kevin Driscoll — when I played in Jamboree, a JUCO basketball tournament, in Colorado in October of that year. Coach Driscoll called me, we spoke about the program, and it all sounded very appealing. I made my decision when the season was done. As both of our seasons were coming to a close, we started getting in contact much more often as my recruitment progressed. Coach Driscoll even came out to Wyoming to see me play in the Region 9 championship; he saw us win.

Soon after, I was officially offered by Marist.

A week later, we went to play in the national championships. Coach Dunne and Coach Driscoll were both in attendance for that; it just went to show how much of a bond they hoped to create, how much of a true person-to-person relationship they wished to cultivate, not just the player-coach relationship. Upon visiting the campus, I learned very quickly that this was the place I wanted to be. I spoke to my parents about the opportunity at Marist both on and off the court and they completely agreed. I fell in love with everything about it.

My home is and will continue to be Bradford, England. Luckily, though, I feel at home here. 

Edited by Will Bjarnar & Bridget Reilly

Leave a Reply