- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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For the past three seasons, Rice forward Arsalan Kazemi has toiled in relative obscurity. This has been the case despite Kazemi's fascinating back story -- he's the first native Iranian to play Division I basketball, at a time of incredible international diplomatic strife between Iran and the United States, no less -- as well as his very productive career to date.
That's what happens when you play for Rice, a low-profile C-USA program that has been steadily rebuilding under fifth-year coach Ben Braun, but which has yet to register in any significant way on the national hoops scene. Kazemi has been very good, even great, but how many college hoops fans have heard of him?
Which seems to be precisely the reason Kazemi, with one year of eligibility left, has decided to make a change. On Monday, CBS Sports reported that Kazemi had been granted his release by Rice. Late Tuesday night, Kazemi told SI's Luke Winn that Kentucky and Oregon were his top two options, and that he was also considering Cincinnati, Florida, Ohio State and Texas.
That list of schools speaks to the general impression college coaches have of Kazemi's abilities, and with good reason. In 2012, the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds for Rice, and his efficiency stats painted an even more flattering picture: Kazemi posted a 114.6 offensive rating, a true shooting percentage of 62.8 percent, the third-highest defensive rebounding percentage in the country (29.0) and drew a ton of fouls, posting an 80.8 percent free throw rate, the eighth-highest percentage in the country. And while C-USA isn't the Big Ten, competition-wise, this isn't the classic case of a big forward simply overmatching his low-major opponents, inflating his stats along the way. Kazemi is the real deal.
Where he'll end up, and when, remain questions. Luke notes that among his listed schools, Oregon is the only place that has yet to begin fall classes (those start on Sept. 24) which could have an impact on his decision if he applies for an NCAA hardship waiver. It's hard to see exactly how Kazemi would qualify for a waiver to play immediately; his decision seems to be based solely on his desire to gain a higher profile in the hoops world. But even if he has to sit for a year, his addition to any team on the list next season -- even Kentucky, which will be stocked with talent again in 2013 -- would be a boon.