09 - 15
June 2024
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Arsalan Kazemi: The unorthodox ways of a fearless warrior

DUBAI (UAE) - Arsalan Kazemi is one of the nicest human beings you will encounter.

"Sometimes, if I can give an assist to my teammate, it makes me more happy than scoring the basketball."

He'll walk into a room and, no matter if he's tired after coming off a flight straight out of a loss in the local league Finals or whatever is going on in his day, Kazemi will smile, give you a gentle handshake, and ask how you are.

"To be honest with you, everybody thinks of me as a nice guy, especially off the court. I'm always smiling, laughing," said Kazemi, coincidentally with a smile and a laugh.

And, again, he genuinely is a nice guy. The keyword here, however, is "off the court".

"On the court, you don't see me smile as often, you know? I change faces so maybe that's something that is closer to my name."

Depending on the origin between Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, his name - Arsalan - ranges in meaning from "warrior", "fearless", and "lion". Arsalan himself might shrug off the connection between the meaning of his name and his demeanor, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Being a "warrior" and "fearless" is undebatable.

The 34-year-old veteran's resume goes on and on from the U19 World Cup in 2009 to multiple World Cups and Olympic Games and Asia Cup appearances with the Iran national team. The same can be said about his professional career from being the first Iranian player drafted in the NBA to winning a handful of league titles in Iran to playing - and winning - in club championships in Asia.

And here he is for another one in Dubai.

"It feels pretty good to be here and obviously, it's not my first time being here," said Kazemi, referring to his three Asia Champions Cup - now rebranded to this Basketball Champions Legaue Asia (BCL Asia) - appearance, one which resulted in a title in 2018 with Petrochimi."

"We have had our ups and downs. I think third place, and fourth place, won a championship, so I've seen all of it.

"When you come and play in a tournament, whatever team gets hot, they can go all the way. I won it with Petrochemi and we made that impossible possible."

"Anything can happen here."

Anything has happened here. After a red-hot start to their campaign against KCC Egis, Gorgan were upset by Pelita Jaya who were powered by a massive 40-point double-double by James Dickey. With less than 24 hours to turn things around, the Iranian club flipped the script by defeating previously undefeated Hiroshima Dragonflies by a big enough margin to clinch the top seed.

"We knew it was a win-or-go-home game," said Kazemi after the win. "Like personally, I'm exhausted. I don't even know how I was running, but when it's a win-or-go-home game, you gotta give it all out.

"I think that's what we did today and gladly we got the win."

Fearless. Warrior. Arsalan.

His current teammates all know well this is who Arsalan is. Even new teammates like Joseph Young know what to expect from Gorgan's leader from past experiences clashing with him.

"I've been knowing [Arsalan] since 2008 in college," said Young. He was at Rice University.

I was at the University of Houston and we've been battling each other for years now."

"And yeah, he went to Oregon, turned the program around, and then I came in after. He's a great player, awesome player. He knows how to lead a team and he brings intensity to a team. He's a winner and playing with him is an honor."

It's not hard to understand why players - like Joseph Young - like to play with Kazemi. He plays hard on defense. He crashes the boards. He leads. He does all the little things that may or may not show up in the boxscore.

More importantly, he'll unselfishly find a teammate with a pinpoint dime. So far in Dubai, Kazemi has dished out 13 assists and has turned the ball over only 3 times. In general, Kazemi seems to always have an awareness of where his teammates are and where they intend to go, making it easier for him to anticipate where his passes are going.

The way he explains it, however, makes it seem much easier than it looks.

"That goes to how you understand the games and how you understand the way that your teammates play. With most of them, I know where they're more comfortable shooting the ball and I know how to find them in transition or when the game is played from half-court.

"So it's all about learning how they play and where they like to shoot and all that."

He admits that it's a process, even if it has become second nature to him by now at this point.

"Some of them, I know them from before, but when you get a new teammate, it takes a little bit of time to get used to know where they're more comfortable and know their game, you know? But after a while you just, you just know it."

Kazemi's style of play can be a bit unorthodox - at least for the casual fan. While he's Gorgan's star without a doubt, he's an unconventional star that doesn't light up the scoreboard. Some fans might wonder why a player averaging 3.7 points per game is averaging such heavy minutes for this title-contending team.

Again, Arsalan gives an explanation for his style that is easier said than done: Mind the Game.

"It's been like that for a while," said Kazemi who is averaging 1.07 field-goal attempts per assist in FIBA club competitions this season.

"I see the game differently than a lot of players and a lot of fans because I'm pretty sure the coaches, they know what I can do and how I change the game for my team. Obviously, maybe a lot of fans don't understand that and I'm totally ok with it."

"I play the game the way that I enjoy it."

"Sometimes, for example, if I can give an assist to my teammate, it makes me more happy than scoring the basketball, you know?

"For me, it's doing all the little things that no one else is willing to do for the team to be successful [that makes me happy].

"That's been my game since day one."

"I have been doing that and I think every team needs someone like that to be successful."