Local 6’7” basketball player, Zion Tordoff, has taken his playing career to a whole new level, having committed to a full athletic scholarship at Casper College in Wyoming, USA. Tordoff, a Great Britain under 18s international, who was also recently voted the EABL (Elite Academy Basketball League) Western player of the year, becomes the first product of the Bradford Dragons junior programme to make it into the United States leagues.
Zion was first introduced to the game of basketball, aged 12, by his PE teacher, Steve Ward, at Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College. Having shown some potential, and following much cajoling from the then Bradford Dragons’ Chairman, Stuart Culliford, Zion also joined the Dragons’ junior programme, combining his first love of football with, in his words, ‘a little social basketball in-between.’
However, the following year, Culliford recruited Hungarian coach Tamas Okros, to head up the juniors, who quickly identified Tordoff as ‘a very real talent.’ Tamas was instrumental in building the junior programme, entering teams into the National league structure at under 14s, under 16s and under 18s. However, more importantly, for Zion, Coach Okros created a competitive, fundamentally accountable and tough environment within the junior ranks. As a result, many players fell by the wayside, but not Tordoff.
Zion reflected on that period, stating, “The demands placed upon the players by the coach (Okros), showed me what was required and the sacrifices that were needed in order to take my game to a higher level. Raw talent is not enough!”
Tordoff recalls, “Chris, who is a great friend of my Dad, always joked about when I was going to stop playing football in order to concentrate on my basketball. Eventually I saw sense.
“Chris took me under his wing straight away, installing in me the principles of hard work and dedication, which will eventually pay off. He has always been there for me, even after I left the Dragons and through him I have learnt many valuable lessons, which I believe have separated me out from other players, for the good.”
Mellor says about Tordoff, “Zion has made remarkable progress for a guy who didn’t really pick up a basketball until he was 12. I think that, because of this, he knew he was playing catch up and, in some ways, this has helped him. He has disciplined himself, both on and off the court, to make up for lost time very quickly.
“He is a very humble young man, with a great work ethic. He loves to practice and his successes already have shown that he is also mentally tough.
“The American adventure is another great challenge for him but, if the past 4 years are anything to go by, I only see him improving and taking further steps forward.”
Tordoff made his International debut, aged 15, representing England under 15s at the Copenhagen Invitational tournament whilst, that same season, he also made his first appearances for the Dragons’ first team in the National Basketball League Division One. He went on to make further International appearances, against Sweden and at International tournaments in France.
Still relatively unknown, he was then drafted in, from a reserve list, to attend the prestigious DENG Camp, a residential basketball camp, headed up by British NBA star Luol Deng. The camp invites the top 50 ranked players (under 19s) in the United Kingdom to put their abilities to the test, in a bid to be ranked the UK’s number one. Despite having not been on the initial invite list, Tordoff finished the camp ranked at number 16.
Following the completion of his GCSE’s, Tordoff made the decision to leave Bradford in order to further his career at the Myerscough Basketball Academy, where he competed in the EABL. In his initial season, Myerscough were Under 19 finalists, whilst Tordoff himself was voted onto the Western Conference second team, averaging 13.8 points per game, with a shot percentage of 66 percent.
That same season he played for Myerscough College in National League Division 3, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, which then led to him being called into the Lancashire Spinners Division One team.
Zion’s international progression also continued, as he was called up to represent England Under 18s in the annual Invitational Haris Memorial Tournament, in Manchester. True to form, Zion finished the competition as England’s top scorer.
In the summer of 2016, Zion was selected to play in the Hoopsfix Under 17s All-Star game, in which he was presented with the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award. Once again, he was invited to attend the DENG camp, this time being ranked as the second-best player (under 19) in the United Kingdom, shooting an impressive 26 points per game (61%).
The 2016/17 season, saw Zion establish himself in the starting five for the Lancashire Spinners, helping to push the division one side into playoff contention with two National Basketball League player-of-the-week performances. He also continued to represent his country, once again competing in the Haris tournament and averaging 16.5 points per game.
Tordoff won the 2017 Under 18s National Cup with Myerscough, claiming the MVP award in the process. His Academy team also rounded off the season as EABL Western Conference runners up, with Tordoff this time being voted onto the Western Conference first team. He followed this up by being voted the EABL Western Conference Player of the Year for 2017. He ranked number one in no fewer than eight categories for his Academy (2 point field goals percentage, 3 point field goals percentage, free throw percentage, points scored, true shooting percentage, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and efficiency rating.
It is this continual progression in Tordoff’s game that has led to him achieving a scholarship for the 2017/18 season at Casper College, Wyoming. This was one of a number of offers, however Zion feels that this is a perfect fit for him, with a coach who wants to challenge him to improve his game, whilst also having a belief and expectation for him to make an immediate impact on the team.
“My journey to Casper will give me an initial one year, to prove myself,” said Tordoff. “I’ve achieved a lot in the UK and I want to take the best of that and learn the best of the USA system to enhance my skills. It’s going to be a huge test, great exposure and an opportunity to further myself.
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but I feel privileged that Head Coach, Dan Russell, believes in my abilities enough to offer me a full scholarship.
“I can’t thank the people enough who have touched my life so far, in helping me to achieve such a great opportunity. Hopefully there is more to come.”
Zion flies out to the States at the end of August and if his determination and progression to date is anything to go by, there certainly will be much more to come.