Zack Gordon has come a long way from his days of playing nearly every position on Miami Beach’s RASG Hebrew Academy basketball team.
On Nov. 7, the 6’6” forward signed a one-and-a-half-year contract with Maccabi Ashdod, a member of Israel’s professional basketball league, also known as the Israel Basketball Super League (Ligat HaAl).
In high school, Gordon averaged 26 points per game, and was tagged Miami Dade 2A Player of the Year, and a second-team All-Dade County selection, under the coaching of his father, Larry Gordon. He graduated from the Hebrew Academy in 2006.
Neither Zack nor his father foresaw him going pro.
“I had no clue I wanted to go pro back in high school; I just wanted to be the best I could be, and I was late (compared to others) in ascertaining that I wanted to play in college,” said Zack.
At times, he considered transferring to a larger high school, but a close group of friends and a supportive father as a coach kept him grounded at RASG.
“To coach a son is very rewarding and at the same time very challenging,” Larry Gordon said. “Zack always felt that playing basketball was his calling in life and much of his identity was that of seeing himself as a player. Zack is not only very coachable but wants to learn and improve, so coaching him was smooth with very little conflict.”
From his early high school days, Zack enjoyed playing a commanding role for the team.
“I was having a lot of fun, and I had a great group of friends whom I’m close with to this day,” Gordon said. “I felt like a big fish in a small pond, and that would’ve been tough to walk away from at the time.”
Being a top player on a small team taught him something.
“The one good takeaway was that on a nightly basis, I was the focus of the other team’s defense, and regularly saw double teams, box-in-ones etc. so I had to learn had to deal with that.”
After graduating from the Hebrew Academy, Gordon played for Yeshiva University in New York, an NCAA Division III school and member of the Skyline Conference. The freshman led the Maccabees to the conference semifinal after a 41-point performance in the quarterfinals, and averaged 20.2 points per game on the season, supplemented with 7.5 rebounds.
He was named Skyline Conference Rookie of the Year, a first-team all-conference selection, and a D3Hoops all-region selection.
In his sophomore year, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania.
Gordon went from 20.2 points per game, to 0.9. Yet he remained on the team, and continued practicing, finishing his senior season averaging 1.5 ppg.
“The decision ultimately came down to better competition,” said Zack. “Being able to play NCAA DI, in addition to the Ivy League education.”
Initially, Gordon struggled, attempting to balance the athletics in a rigorous academic setting.
“The time and work I needed to put in was more taxing on my mind and body than I could’ve ever imagined,” Gordon said. “A lot is expected of you in terms of hours, and that’s just the time you’re required to be practicing and working out. In order to separate yourself, you need to dig somewhere deep in your will to put in the extra work needed to improve. Your life revolves around basketball.”
Though he didn’t get much playing time, he says playing in the tougher league made him a better player.
“My experience at Penn made me a much smarter basketball player on both ends of the floor,” Gordon said. “My overall IQ of the game increased dramatically. Defensively, I know where I needed to be at all times.”
Not many players who average 5.5 minutes per game in college continue their basketball careers after college, but Gordon’s eclectic style of play sets him apart from those around him.
“I study everyone’s style, and I try to absorb as much information as I can,’’ he said. “From point guards to centers, if I see a guy doing a move that works, I’ll go up to him and talk about it—write it down, work on it, and try to include it in my repertoire. I also try to play a lot of one-on-ones against all types of players, so that I can see their moves, how they go about executing them, and so I can practice defending every kind of player.”
On his new team, Gordon has joined former NCAA American basketball players Jamie Skeen (Wake Forest), Mardy Collins (Temple), Mike Hall, (George Washington) and Diamon Simpson (St. Mary’s, CA).
He’s remains in awe of his new life and opportunity.
“Israel means a lot to me; it definitely feels like my spiritual home,’’ Zack said. “To play in a country where everyone feels connected through lineage is pretty special.”