Kazemi About To Heat Up

Arsalan Kazemi is quite a story. He's attempting to become the first Iranian player to attend a U.S. college on a Division I basketball scholarship. After stints at the Reebok All-American Camp and outings with his AAU team, so far so good.

"Did you see the Iranian kid," one college coach said. "Yeah, he's really good," another assistant chimed in. OK, I get it. Time to go watch Arsalan Kazemi again. The 6-foot-7 Reebok All-American camper was heating up. I'd seen him once prior to hearing the buzz and frankly, still had my socks on.

With the buzz mounting, the 6-foot-7 power forward needed another look. He wasn't bad – solid athlete, energy guy. In short, he looked like a lot of campers at Reebok and it was difficult discerning his overall talent level. While Kazemi was excited to be there, admittedly he wasn't on top of his game.

"I was very happy," Kazemi said. "I heard it was 100 top players in America. There might have been 200 players there when I got there. It's very good for me. I go there and try. Everybody was selfish. I got injured. If I wasn't injured I play better. I really miss the Reebok Camp because I should be in the all-star game. I still have a pain in my hands."

Kazemi's mentor, Anthony Ibrahim, confided that his guy was in essence a fish out of water at the major camp. It was his first foray into something of this magnitude on American turf.

"I told him it was unfair. You saw him at Reebok U. You had to see him in Vegas and L.A. Don't label him just an athlete. He was frustrated and wasn't used to that style basketball plus his arm hurt him. With him, even in pickup, he wants to share the basketball. He was at camp looking at the wins and losses. I told him there was a difference here and he had to look for his own and create. You can't assume that all of them know how to play basketball."

Reebok's All-American Camp was his chance to spread the word but it wasn't his defining moment. There was work to be done in terms of convincing college recruiters.

Two weeks later, playing in the adidas Super 64 with Houston Select, the evaluation would be different. Still looking a bit raw, Kazemi was impressive. His relentless, attacking style against a Seattle Rotary team featuring a handful of big time prospects, was noticeable. He made winning plays down the stretch and in overtime. At his core he was a worker with high-major potential.

Basically, if you didn't see Kazemi in Vegas and only went on the Reebok evaluation, there's a chance he wasn't impressive enough for the high-majors in college hoops to step up with offers. Those who spent time with him later in the month tended to have a different take. Regardless, he's now on the map.

By the way, this young man is tracking as the first Iranian-born player to receive a Division I scholarship. He'll play this year for Chris Chaney at the Patterson School in North Carolina. He arrived at the school last year but didn't get there in time to play regular season games.

"He has a chance," Chaney said. "He can really, really play." Kazemi is going to see time at the small and power forward slots for the prep power. That's not to say the 18-year old's first slice of Americana was what he thought it was going to be. He arrived at the school last spring and had to adapt.

"The first day, I cried like for an hour. When I got there, there was no internet or TV; I had nothing to do. I don't know anybody. I was kind of homesick. I missed my family but I came here to get better and better. If I go to the NBA I would hope to bring my family here and have a comfortable life.

"I practiced by myself everyday. The season was over and I practiced … over and over. I buy something, like Verizon wireless, and you can use the internet wherever you want. I talk to my mother everyday twice. Now I watch them on the internet and the webcam and its going better."

Better? That may be an understatement. Kazemi didn't play with the Iranian national team this summer because he feared being able to re-enter the country with his visa. Instead, he's been in Houston working out with all kinds of players, including Nick Van Exel and Ibrahim said his game is taking shape.

"He's been playing the four all his life because of his size. He was forced to play the four. Since he's been working out here and he's been working out with Nick Van Exel. Van Exel said he's a Kurt Thomas-big guy. Then he took (Kazemi) to the post. He drop stepped got up and dunked it with the left hand."

Van Exel must have been thinking what a lot of college guys are asking themselves this month? Who is this kid and where did he come from? Ibrahim spotted him a year ago at the Asian championships where Kazemi was MVP and captained his team (he's also the former MVP of Asia's Basketball Without Borders).

"We got the championship when we beat China in the final," Kazemi said. "I got an I-20 for the Patterson School and I got the Visa and I come to the States. That's my story."

"I saw how athletic he was and how intelligent he was," Ibrahim said of his initial look. "He knew the basketball game. You can always make him a better shooter and handler. He has the wit. He's so smart on the court."

Kazemi intends to play college basketball. That, however, doesn't necessarily mean he knows a lot about the collegiate game. "I think about college. You ask me about the play and I don't know. I watch one game between Texas and Memphis and one game Valpo and U of H. I watch two more games on TV and the Final Four and the finals. That's it."

Armed with a guardian and an elementary at best knowledge of college hoops, Kazemi is about to weave through the maze that is the recruiting game. The forward said he talks to a lot of assistants, but few head coaches. Ibrahim indicated that Rick Pitino, Ben Howland, Bobby Gonzolez, Bill Self and Rick Barnes have seen him; lots are interested.

Stanford pulled Johnny Dawkins out of Team USA practice in Vegas and had him go over and watch Kazemi. Louisville, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Kansas, Seton Hall, Gonzaga, Maryland, Western Kentucky, Rice and Arkansas are interested. Some have gone as far as to offer but we can't imagine many are aware of his story. How can anyone have a great working knowledge of his game? He's that new to the landscape.

Kazemi may wind up being a late signee out of necessity. His English is improving though he'll need time to sharpen up before the standardized test. He'll sit down in October and take the SAT. NCAA rules mandate that he posts a test score before taking official visits. Therefore, he won't be able to take officials until the season cranks up in October.

In the meantime, he'll head to Patterson in a few weeks and in early September colleges will be able to head out and watch him play. Don't be surprised if it's a big group evaluating him next month.

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