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MailTribune.com
  • Kazemi a good fit with Ducks

    Iranian leads Oregon in rebounds and steals
  • Arsalan Kazemi has partially solved what he found to be his biggest challenge with living in Eugene: finding somewhere to dine on food dishes of his native Iran.
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  • Arsalan Kazemi has partially solved what he found to be his biggest challenge with living in Eugene: finding somewhere to dine on food dishes of his native Iran.
    Though he still hasn't located a restaurant that features Iranian cuisine, the Oregon senior has "met a lot of Iranian people here," including graduate students at the UO.
    "They can cook so I just go there sometimes," he said.
    With that adjustment to what was once what he listed as his primary issue with being in Eugene, the transition for Kazemi continues to go well, particularly on the basketball court, where the 6-foot-7 senior leads Oregon in rebounds (9.3) and steals (3.4), the latter figure also leading the Pac-12, while shooting a .561 percentage from the field in averaging 9.3 points.
    Simply put, what an addition he's been for the Ducks as they've begun the season with a 9-1 record.
    "Oregon was the best fit for me," Kazemi said of choosing it as a destination when he decided to leave Houston's Rice University. "They needed a guy like me to get some rebounds and get some hustle plays and get some scoring out of him."
    Check, check and check, and it all happened almost from the moment Kazemi took the court in Oregon's third game after he was cleared by the NCAA to be eligible this season.
    "He's a good player, and I really like him," UO coach Dana Altman said. "Very mature, very intelligent, a really good young man.
    "Offensively he has a lot of skills that he hasn't shown. He shoots the ball OK, he just hasn't felt comfortable doing it. I've encouraged him to shoot it more often and that's unusual, to tell a guy to shoot it more."
    But what is usual about Kazemi's path to being one of the Ducks?
    He initially came from Iran to North Carolina while in high school, "first of all to get my education and to get to play basketball. The toughest thing was sacrificing (the ability) to see my family and all my friends back home and come to a country where I don't have anyone."
    He goes home each summer, but said "it's really tough to see your family once a year and that month you go home, you see them for a week or two because the rest of it you have to be at the national team camp" training for international competition.
    Kazemi termed basketball "a real popular sport in Iran," with that interest increased in the past decade as the country has had more success internationally. While he was the first player from Iran to receive a Division I scholarship for the sport, one of Kazemi's teammates from the Iranian junior team is a walk-on at UCLA and another is playing for Hawaii Pacific.
    "Basketball is becoming really popular, one of the top two sports in my country," Kazemi said. "A lot of people watch it and are following me "… they're starting to know more about college basketball" in the United States.
    It probably helps that Kazemi has been such a success, both in his three seasons at Rice and in his first month with the Ducks. He spoke with a handful of reporters Wednesday before Oregon's practice, only the second time he's been in front of the media, with his first appearance a brief session following an Oregon game last month.
    Kazemi fielded questions on a wide variety of topics, limiting his answers only on why he left Rice, along with five other players since last season, and what he based his appeal on to the NCAA to be granted immediate eligibility rather than sitting out a year, usually required in a switch of schools.
    One of Kazemi's former teammates at Rice, Omar Oraby, transferred to USC and the native of Egypt was also granted eligibility for this season. When Kazemi and Oraby were given that go-ahead by the NCAA, Rice put out a statement rebutting what it said were charges of discrimination on the part of administrators at the school that were used as a basis for the player appeals to the NCAA, but the players and the universities have otherwise kept quiet about the situation.
    "That's over," Kazemi said. "I've put that behind me and all I care about right now is Oregon basketball and my new team. I'm hoping I can do whatever I can to make my team improve and get to our goals this year."
    He acknowledged it was "a gamble" to assume he'd be cleared by the NCAA but, again, declined to offer specifics on his plea for eligibility, saying, "I'd rather not do that."
    "I knew I had a chance," he added of his reasoning, "but it was something I knew about and no one else knew about."
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