Exodus: Arsalan sixth player to leave Rice
Rice senior Arsalan Kazemi requested a release from the basketball team and received it on Monday, according to Rice Athletics, making him the sixth player to leave the team since the conclusion of last season. The 6-foot-7 forward had been the Owl's most valuable player, averaging 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in 2011-2012. He was one of only 21 NCAA division I players to average a double-double last season.
While Kazemi declined to comment on his decision, his departure was met by confusion from some teammates.
"I don't get it because this is his last year and also because all his stats were going to sky-rocket," shooting guard Tamir Jackson said.
Athletic Director Rick Greenspan also expressed his disappointment in Kazemi's departure.
"We take pride in the high graduation rate of our Rice student-athletes, and we're always sad when a student-athlete leaves without finishing his or her degree, but we wish Arsalan all the best," Greenspan said.
While head coach Ben Braun said that Kazemi had attended all pre-season conditioning sessions and individual work- outs, the Owl's star forward is now looking to play at Kentucky, Texas, Oregon, Ohio State, Florida or Cincinnati. Profesional European leagues also remain a viable option for Kazemi, but there has been no indication yet that he intends to go overseas to play.
The competition at these high-profile schools will be much more challenging than that of the C-USA. However, Kazemi has always held NBA ambitions, even telling VOA News in 2011 that he would like to move on to the NBA after his junior year; his performance in a stronger conference could dictate whether he ever makes it to the highest level of professional basketball.
Kazemi's departure is a resounding blow for a team that seemed to be on the up and coming after attaining a Collegeinsider.com Tournament playoff berth last season - its first postseason appearance since 2005. However, since the conclusion of last year's campaign, a massive exodus has taken place with six players leaving Braun's squad. The team had previously lost Jarelle Reischel to Rhode Island, Dylan Ennis to Villanova, David Chadwick to Valpariso and Ahmad Ibrahim to overseas play. Last week, Omar Oraby, a friend and room- mate of Kazemi, received a release to leave for USC as previously reported by the Thresher.
Head Coach Ben Braun acknowledged that there was a problem with the large number of departures and stated that he and Athletic Director Rick Greenspan are on a C-USA committee analyzing the current state of college basketball, including why so many players are transferring.
Braun believes that a number of the transfers occurred because of a lack of playing time or a desire for an expanded role on the team.
"We're in an instant gratification type society," Braun said. "There's a feeling sometimes that if you don't contribute immediately, you're failing."
Braun also added that some players talked about a desire for more visibility and getting noticed by professional scouts more often.
Jackson, the only current senior on the team, said he was unsure why the team has endured so many transfers, but he feels that the team chemistry is not the problem.
"I don't really know why so many players left," Jackson said. "I'm guessing they feel it is better for them individually. But we all are friends and have lots of love for each other. We all consider ourselves as a family."
Jackson also said he feels that Braun is not a part of the problem.
"Coach Braun is a great leader," Jackson said. "He's been coaching for a very long time and has a lot of pro play- ers that came out of his program and changed the Rice basketball program tremendously. I feel he is a great coach and connects to his players very well, and I stand by him with no hesitation."The transfers of Kazemi and Oraby occur on the heels of Marco Morcos's departure from the team. During his time at Rice, Morcos, an Egyptian native, played a major role in recruiting - particularly in bringing Kazemi, Oraby and many of last year's recruiting class to the team, according to the Houston Chronicle.
While Braun declined to comment on any potential role of Morcos in the departure of the players and Morcos could not be reached for comment, Jackson said he felt that Morcos was a reason behind the player exodus.
"His relationship with the players he recruited was great," Jackson said. "I do think their departure had to do with Coach Morcos ... I'm guessing because they were close to him."
Morcos has left schools amid scrutiny over his recruiting practices in the past. Morcos previously coached high school ball at the LEAP Academy, a charter school in Newark, NJ. According to a document from the Commissioner of Education in New Jersey, while there, Morcos was involved in a scandal where three basketball players were ultimately deemed ineligible.
Two of the players came in from out of state and were wrongfully registered at the school, and a third was wrongfully given a "Katrina waiver" to play immediately after transferring, although it was later discovered that the student was not affected by the hurricane. Marcos left the school for a position as Director of Basketball Operations at University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the LEAP academy was put on probation.
This infraction concerning the wrongful Katrina waiver is of particular interest since Oraby is currently seeking his own "hardship waiver" to forego the one year he would have to sit out according to NCAA rules.
Morcos has been invested in Oraby's career since his departure from Rice; according to Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle, Morcos actually joined Oraby on his trip to the USC campus.
Morcos' assumption of the position of Director of Basketball Operations at UAB coincided with a commitment from a player named Terrence Roderick, whom Morcos coached in AAU ball, according to Morcos' biography on the UAB website. When Morcos left for Rice after a year he was followed almost immediately by Roderick.
Moving into the future, Braun said he believes he needs to sell students on the true value of Rice.
"We want to put together a staff and players who I believe will really succeed at Rice and really value their experience here," Braun said. "We have to build that culture and then solidify it. We want players to think 'Maybe playing a few more minutes isn't worth transferring from Rice.'"
Jackson also acknowledged the difficulty associated with retaining players.
"There isn't really much a coach can do" Jackson said. "Players leave schools every year due to multiple reasons, and most of the time it is because of playing time.
But I guess players should always keep this in the back of their heads when deciding to leave a school or not: The grass isn't always greener on the other side, it is greener where you water it."
In looking forward to next season, Braun said he and his staff will have to work toward rebuilding the team. The roster officially has six open spots, and the coaching staff will have to make the best of the situation by finding walk-ons or other athletes who can contribute at a high enough level to help the Owls overcome the loss of a the team's superstar and multiple promising players from last year's freshman class. Jackson, however, is not deterred by the huge player turnover and its impact on the upcoming season.
"The only problem I think that we are facing is people counting us out and talking down on us because of what is happening and not having faith in the guys we have" Jackson said.
"Because we have already heard negative things about us on the internet and on campus, I just want to say, don't count us out just yet."
Ryan Glassman and Bhagwat Kumar contributed to this article.