Commentary

Bouncing from hardwood to felt tables

Ex-Texas Tech and Gonzaga basketball player graduated to pro poker circuit

Updated: July 8, 2010, 12:54 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

Nathan DoudneyIcon SMI, GreasieWheelsFormer Rockwall High, Texas Tech and Gonzaga basketball player Nathan Doudney, 27, has been cashing in at the poker table. He hopes to parlay his winnings into a lucrative career in real estate.

That TV commercial the NCAA likes so much, the one about there being over 400,000 student-athletes, and almost all of them will be going pro in something other than sports?

Yeah, well, Nathan Doudney isn't who the NCAA had in mind.

Doudney played two years of basketball under Bob Knight at Texas Tech, got fed up with Knight's style, transferred and spent two years on the squad at Gonzaga. He was a pretty decent ballplayer, specializing in the 3-point shot.

He once dropped seven 3s on No. 3 Texas in the 2003 Big 12 tournament in Dallas, about a 3-point shot away from his hometown of Rockwall.

At Gonzaga, he tore an ACL, was slow to recover and saw a potential international basketball career go down the tubes. He graduated with a business degree.

And, yeah, he went pro in something other than sports. You know, if you don't consider high-stakes poker a sport.

"I've had good success as far as the money's gone," Doudney said from Las Vegas, where he lives part time and is now immersed in the granddaddy event of the year, the World Series of Poker.

Breathe easy, NCAA, Doudney's degree is coming in handy. He's using his winnings to lay the foundation for his future as a real estate mogul.

"Hopefully, one day I'm out of poker and own a bunch of apartments and stuff like that," Doudney said. "This is kind of a way, I guess since basketball didn't work out, to keep my competitive mind going."

Doudney made it through Monday's play-in event and is set to get back to the table Friday, which is better than Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion can claim. Playing in his first World Series of Poker event, Marion ate his $10,000 buy-in and was out of luck on Day 1.

Sure, UNLV product Marion can fall back on his $7.8 million salary next season, but Doudney's doing pretty well for himself, too. According to CardPlayer.com, which tracks professional poker players' earnings and statistics, the 27-year-old has cashed in $720,575 in winnings in about three years as a pro.

At the 2008 WSOP, Doudney won $260,261 in a day's work and took in $214,289 in one day at the 2009 WSOP. In just the past month at the 2010 WSOP, he's netted $53,135.

So how'd a high school basketball star from Rockwall become a professional poker player who has traveled to Australia and Monte Carlo to cash in?

It sort of started with that Big 12 tournament upset of the Longhorns. Doudney, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, had been considering a move from Tech. He simply didn't fit into Knight's rigid constraints and wanted a change. His seven 3s and a career-high 25 points against a Texas team that went on to the Final Four drew attention from Gonzaga, which had lightly recruited him out of high school.

"It just wasn't the best fit for me," Doudney said about playing for Knight at Tech. "I got to play. I got my share of opportunities. He's a great X's and O's coach and I definitely learned a lot, especially about defense.

"It wasn't just the yelling, it was the whole control aspect, totally off the court. It wasn't what I was looking for in my college career. He pretty much controls every moment of every day off the court."

When Doudney got to Gonzaga he made fast friends with teammates, in particular with Blake Stepp, another poker aficionado and Doudney's real estate business partner. Gonzaga is where Doudney started playing poker, mostly on the Internet, but he didn't get serious until after graduation.

And so here he is at the WSOP, eyeing a small fortune and planning his future business. He's been able to help out his family in Rockwall, even if his mother didn't always approve of her son's ways.

"She wasn't too thrilled with it at first, but she probably thought it was just some gambling habit, which it's not really, especially the tournament scene," Doudney said. "You're playing against really skilled players, and it's not like a bunch of degenerates in that sense. It's just really skilled, rich people, actually."

When he's not playing poker, Doudney resides in Bend, Ore., with his wife of one year. He remains a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and hopes to be at Cowboys Stadium to watch the Cowboys play in the Super Bowl, on his birthday.

He's also a college football junkie and has four flat screens on the wall to prove it. And, sure, maybe there's just a little bit of wagering.

"A little bit," Doudney said. "Just for fun."

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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