Arsalan Kazemi: Iranian Star Embraced by Oregon Fans, Looks for NBA Future
by Bryan Kalbrosky
Arsalan Kazemi came to the United States with the hope of becoming an NBA athlete. At the University of Oregon, his fans made him feel like a superstar.
The legacy of Kazemi is met with a laundry list of merit. He has been a figure on the NCAA All-International first team. He was selected to the 2012-13 Pac-12 All-Defensive team. He was the third ever recipient of the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) Most Courageous Award. And perhaps his proudest achievement: Kazemi is the first Iranian to ever player Division-I basketball in the NCAA.
Now, he can add that he played a pivotal role in earning a Pac-12 conference title during an impressive NCAA tournament for the University of Oregon. His fans were certainly pleased with his play: in March Madness, Kazemi scored 10 PPG and added 15 rebounds per game.
“Obviously the crowd helps big time [during the season]. I’m sure it’s really hard for the other team to compete against,” said Kazemi, reflecting on home games at Matthew Knight Arena. “I also received a lot of support with Twitter and Facebook. I have to thank them for coming out and supporting us.”
The graduating senior spent his last day in Eugene hanging out with the Oregon Ducks student section. With enthusiasm, the Iranian power forward answered questions from fans inthesocial media command center for Oregon Ducks athletics: the Quack Cave.
Undoubtedly, the University of Oregon and their fans had treated Arsalan Kazemi with love. On April 18, however, his road to the NBA was closer than ever before. Kazemi was on his way out of Eugene, headed to Los Angeles for pre-NBA Draft workouts.
Kazemi, of course, is familiar with relocation. In fact, it’s how he ended up in Eugene to begin with. In February 2008, at only 17 years old, Kazemi came to the United States with hoop dreams. By that November, he had signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
After his junior year, however, Kazemi was granted a hardship waiver due to alleged racism that allowed him to transfer to the University of Oregon without missing any playing time. According to Kazemi, he needed the program as much as the team and fans needed him.
“It was really hard for me to transfer. I did a lot of research because I had a lot of offers from other teams,” said Kazemi. “I knew Oregon was the right place for me. Oregon was a team that needed me the most as a player.”
Attracted to the Ducks’ need for rebounding, their seniority of players returning to the team, and the dedicated alumni base of the university itself, the choice had become obvious for Kazemi. He would come to the University of Oregon, and earned a role as a starting forward on the team.
When his waiver to play was finally cleared, he led the team with seven rebounds against Vanderbilt. Oregon beat the SEC program by a whopping 74-48.
“Going into the court, nobody knew me at that time but I saw a sign about me because it was my first game,” said Kazemi. “It really helps having the crowd like that behind you every game.”
With a smile, Kazemi recalls his first points scored while at the University of Oregon. He remembers having the ball, dishing it off to Jonathan Loyd, and then Loyd dishing the ball back to him. As if time had stopped, he went up for an alley-oop and drove in his first bucket as an Oregon Duck.
“The place went crazy. I never experienced a home crowd like that,” Kazemi continued, discussing how the student section reacted to his dunk. “Seeing a home crowd like that for my team was amazing.”
While he doesn’t have a favorite player, Kazemi admits that he tried to model his game after Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs due to the calm composure of the NBA star.
Kazemi wasn’t able to watch many NBA games in Iran, but he would wake up at 6AM on Friday mornings to watch the San Antonio Spurs play. He admired how much international talent they had on their roster.
He believes fans like to see highlights, hustling and diving on the floor, getting loose balls and steals, and powering in a slam-dunk. He tries to ensure that his game reflects that, hoping to secure the dirty work of rebounds, pushes and finding the open guy.
Moving to Eugene was a transition for Kazemi, but one that he loved.
“Whenever I see someone on campus try to come say hi to me, I stay there and talk to them … even if I’m late to my class,” explained Kazemi. “I try to be nice to every single fan that I see on [and off] campus.”
Unlike Houston, Eugene is a college town. In Eugene, athletes like LaMichael James, Joey Harrington or Ashton Eaton have long been considered to be at the center of attention for the city and the fans.
“It’s a big difference,” said Kazemi. “But as an athlete, I really like Eugene much, much more. Everything is around the University of Oregon. You actually feel like a professional athlete when you play sports at the University of Oregon.”
Soon, he hopes to hear his name called in the upcoming NBA Draft. Kazemi, however, will not give up on his dreams if he does not get selected. His alternative plan is to seek out professional basketball in Asia or Europe. Top destinations include China or Spain.
In China, Kazemi says that he met former Oregon Ducks star Aaron Brooks when the guard hosted a camp called Basketball Without Borders.
When Kazemi attended Rice and later went to see Brooks play in Houston, the Oregon alum recognized an elated Kazemi, who was excited at being recognized by NBA talent. He hopes to bring similar happiness to other young stars in coming years.
For Arsalan Kazemi, becoming a professional athlete isthe next goal. He agrees that Eugene, however, played a good host to the Iranian athlete during his time in Oregon.
Kazemi even says he wouldn’t mind coming back to Eugene in his future.
“Maybe one day,” said Kazemi, with his biggest smile of the afternoon. “Maybe I’ll open an Iranian restaurant for the next Iranian athlete who come to play at the University of Oregon.”
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