Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Giving Thanks and Getting TransfersPosted by Rockne Roll on November 27th, 2012
Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country.
Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back from the grind and routine of life and appreciate that which we often take for granted. Family, friends, employment, even simple things like food and shelter are worth thinking of on days like this in times like these, not to mention the opportunity we get to experience and chronicle something as exciting and beautiful as college basketball. In wet and soggy Eugene, Oregon, the Ducks have someone and something to be thankful for, too, as they wind through their early non-conference schedule. Arsalan Kazemi, who transferred from Rice just before the start of the season, put on an Oregon uniform for the first time just a day after his waiver request was approved by the NCAA.
Once a rarity, the upper-class transfer has become as big of a part of the college basketball landscape as the one-and-done. According to CBS Sports, more than 400 Division I basketball players have transferred schools this year, and ESPN cites an NCAA report saying that 40 percent of all college freshman basketball players will eventually change schools. Some of these players are taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule, some are exiting Division I to one of the lower tiers of college hoops, and some are either planning to sit out a year or hoping to receive the gift of a hardship waiver from the NCAA, relieving them and their new teams from the burden of an academic year in residence.
The process by which the NCAA approves and denies these requests is a mystery even to those who follow college ball religiously. Earlier this month, the NCAA published new guidelines on its granting of waivers for players who are changing schools to move closer to ailing family members, clearing up some nagging issues but making some language even more confusing. Currently, ESPN reports that about half of the waiver requests made in the last five years have been approved, a figure that is expected to rise under the new regulations.
This year, stories of transfers and their eligibility have factored largely into the headlines of the college basketball universe. Kazemi’s Rice teammate Omar Oraby stole the spotlight when his waiver request to join Southern California was approved, bolstering an otherwise lackluster Trojans squad that was further decimated when Maurice Jones, the Trojans’ leader last season in points and assists, bolted for Iowa State, saying his move “really wasn’t a basketball decision. It was a life decision.” Jones did not apply for a waiver and will not play for the Cyclones this year. But behind all the headlines and scandals is the simple fact that there were so many transfers this summer that a USA Today article branded this the “free-agency era” of college basketball and Eamonn Brennan, columnist for ESPN.com, branded this the “Summer of the Transfer.”
Few coaches have embraced this trend like Dana Altman. In his two previous years as UO’s head coach, Altman has brought in high-production transfers such as Carlos Emory and Tony Woods, who are now integral to the Ducks’ rotation, as well as Devoe Joseph, who was the centerpiece of Oregon’s offense last year. Even with a number of players transferring out (continuing the revolving door trend), Altman has shown a deft touch when it comes to plucking out key transfers and turning them into high-impact players.
Kazemi is right up there with the best of them. Already possessing notoriety as the first Iranian-born D-I basketball player, Kazemi averaged a double-double last year at Rice and gained a reputation as an elite rebounder and post scorer in a physical conference. With freshman Ben Carter still developing as a player and the depth chart looking thin at power forward, Altman needed a sure-fire, right-now big man to complement Woods’ shotblocking down low. After two games, including a blowout win against Vanderbilt, Altman was impressed with Kazemi’s performance. “He’s a good player, his instincts are really good, his ability to go get the ball, he’s physical on the boards, he anticipates really well.” Altman said after the Duck’s game against Jacksonville State in which Kazemi led the team with eight rebounds and five steals, while freeing up Woods to notch five blocks. “I think he and Tony together will be a good one-two punch for us,” Altman added.
Kazemi positively dominated the boards in the championship game of the Global Sports Classic against No. 22 Cincinnati, pulling down 15 boards and scoring nine points in the Ducks’ first loss of the season. Even though they lost the tournament final, the Ducks came home with a win over a ranked opponent (then- No. 18 UNLV), in what was their first truly tight game of the season, as well as a glimpse of their potential after excellent performances in the two tournament games from Kazemi, Emory, and freshman Damyean Dotson. So while the Ducks still have some polishing to do, they have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Like the fact that they don’t play another ranked team before conference play, or that they only play one more non-conference game on the road. Or perhaps simply that, as one student fan’s sign noted, Kazemi has been “freed.”