University of Oregon forward Arsalan Kazemi became the first Iranian ever taken in the National Basketball Association Draft last week. Kazemi was taken with the 54th overall selection in the second round, by the Philadelphia 76ers. In fact, new Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie had his eye on the Iranian all along. â€œArsalan is a player we were interested in, even early in the second round,â€ said Hinkie, who traded down in the second round three times as he stockpiled two second-round picks in the 2014 draft before ultimately nabbing Kazemi with the 54th overall selection. â€œWe always moved with one goal: We were never not going to have a pick in the second round. We never were going to put ourselves in a position to not get Arsalan.â€
Kazemi, for his part, has done his homework on his new team.â€œI know the team struggled last year a bit because Andrew Bynum didnâ€™t get a chance to play,â€ Kazemi said. When asked which NBA player he aspires to mold his game after, he mentioned Utah forward Paul Millsap, another under-sized rebounding machine like Kazemi.
Kazemi certainly considers it an honor to be the first Iranian ever drafted, and he takes his role as Persian ambassador seriously. â€œIt means a lot to me and my country,â€ Kazemi said. â€œThe feedback Iâ€™ve been getting since yesterday, (my Iranian friends) have been up all night watching the draft to see if I would get drafted or not. Iâ€™m sure they are happy. It kind of feels like it kept the dream alive for a lot of kids at home.â€
Kazemi spent his first two years of college at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He transferred to Oregon last summer after a reported racist incident involving an athletic program administrator. But Kazemi has never publicly complained about the incident. And he has always exhibited a hard-working approach to assimilating to a new program.â€œThereâ€™s absolutely no doubt about his character,â€ says Kazemiâ€™s head coach at Oregon, Dana Altman. â€œHe graduated right on time. Heâ€™s a bright, articulate young man. Very good work ethic. Heâ€™s not afraid to put the hours in.â€