COLLEGES: Rice, Oregon
VITALS: 6'7", 226 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 2013 by Washington (Round 2, Pick 54)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Philadelphia 76ers
The NBA has pulled its talent pool from every nook and cranny of the globe. From Gabon to Tanzania, Dominica to Guyana, over the years the National Basketball Association has scoured our planet for the best players on it. If you have been watching the FIBA World Cup, you have seen several countries that have had little or zero representation in the world's most prestigious basketball league. One of those countries is Iran. Iran has been in the news for everything but sports over the past decade but their national teams are trying to change that. Iran made a nuisance of themselves at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, including giving finalist Argentina all they wanted in the group stage. It may have been with less fanfare, but Iran also qualified for this year's FIBA World Cup by winning the 2013 FIBA Asian Championships. The star of that tournament was Hamed Haddadi, the only Iranian to ever play in the NBA. Today's profile, Arsalan Kazemi, is attempting to be the second.
Arsalan Kazemi was born in Iran and began his basketball journey in his native country. He was the captain of the U-18 National Team and was the MVP of the 2007 WABA (West Asian Basketball Association) Championship. In addition to his international duties, Kazemi played a season professionally in the Iran Super League. Zob Ahan Basketball Club finished fourth in his one season for them. At the age of 17, the forward came to America.
Kazemi finished off his senior year of high school at the Patterson School in North Carolina. He was ranked as the 82nd best prospect in the country after that season, garnering attention from some of the biggest programs in the nation. Kazemi received scholarship offers from Maryland, Seton Hall, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, Syracuse, Louisville and Rice. The Iranian international flipped the script on the pundits and chose Rice over the big boys. In doing so, he became the first Iranian to play Division I college basketball. He wouldn't disappoint his countrymen in the US.
Rice has never been known as a basketball power. They haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1970 and the NIT since 2005. I don't count their run to the CIT quarterfinals in 2012. Rice was 8-23 (including a horrendous 1-15 in conference) during Kazemi's freshman year. That didn't deter him from showcasing his considerable skills. He averaged 10.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game en route to Conference USA All-Freshman team honors. For the national team, Kazemi was a double double machine during the U-19 World Championships. Like his college team though, Iran wasn't very successful at the Worlds finishing 15th.
Expectations were raised for Kazemi's sophomore season. Coaches picked him to be Second Team All-Conference USA. Those prognostications were correct as Arsalan's monster year in Houston garnered him Second Team honors with per game figures of 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also made several all-district teams in Texas and the NCAA All-International team along with Texas' Tristan Thompson and USC's Nikola Vucevic. The United States Basketball Writer's Association even named him the third ever recipient of the Most Courageous Award. Those honors were tied up in a bow by him representing his country at the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Championships. Kazemi's 12 points and 7 rebounds a contest weren't enough to keep Iran from being eliminated in the group stage and finishing 19th overall.
Arsalan's statistics would take a hit during his junior year at Rice. However, it would be the only season over .500 (19-16) during his tenure at the school. Kazemi's 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game would be enough to earn him Second Team All-Conference USA accolades for the second consecutive season. Unfortunately for the Owls, not even a trip to the lucrative CIT postseason tournament could keep the forward from transferring to Oregon. Even less unfortunate was the reason he had to transfer in the first place. He was granted a hardship waiver after allegations of discrimination during his time at Rice. I'd say that isn't the best way to sell recruits to come to a school with zero history of winning outside of a World War era.
Nevertheless, Kazemi's senior year at Oregon was business as usual on the court. He was only a fraction a point away from averaging another double double for the season. His trophy case picked up further additions to it as well. He was an Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 and All-Pac 12 Defensive Team selection. He was also named to the All-Pac 12 Tournament team. The Ducks made it all the way to the Sweet 16 in Kazemi's first trip to the Big Dance, losing to eventual champion Louisville.
The Washington Wizards made Arsalan the 54th overall selection of last year's NBA Draft. His draft rights were traded that night to Philadelphia along with Nate Wolters for Glen Rice Jr. Obviously, since he's here on Draft Rights Retained, he opted to return to Iran instead of signing with the Sixers. In typical Kazemi fashion, he averaged a double double for Petrochimi Bandar Imam.
I'll spoil Kazemi's performance at the 2014 FIBA World Cup for you real quick. He didn't come anywhere close to averaging a double double. Frankly, he had a hard time cracking double digit minutes in a game. Iran went just 1-4 in the group stage and Kazemi was only able to put 10 points on the scoreboard in 4 games. It'll be interesting to see if his performance at the World Cup will influence Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie's decision whether or not to make the Kazemi the second Iranian ever in the NBA. Until that call comes, Kazemi needs to get to first period on time.
Thanks for reading the nineteenth installment of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter @TREVORutley and the official Bleeding Your Colors Twitter @B3WHYC3. For less of me, frisbee toss your computer into the Grand Canyon.
Image Credits: Kazemi profile (nba.com), Kazemi with Backpack (nba.com)