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Maturation

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It would seem ignorant to suggest that Owls Fr. F Arsalan Kazemi doesn't play hard all of the time, but since the concept of hard work is subjective, Kazemi felt it necessary to check with Ben Braun before he continued to explain how hard he works every minute he's on the court.

Kazemi made his second career start on Tuesday night and, clearly important to him, that start came at Tudor Fieldhouse. By his flashing of his now trademark sheepish grin, Kazemi acknowledged that the event indeed represented a milestone in his burgeoning career. However, his approach to starting remains the same as when he came off the bench prior to the Owls' unsettling loss at Lamar last week: he works himself ragged no matter the situation.

"I try to play hard all the time," Kazemi said. "You get tired anytime you play more than five minutes hard, but I try to play hard. I hope ... "

As his voice trailed off, Kazemi leaned forward and peeked over at Braun as if to seek approval of his declaration that he does indeed play hard. Braun was quick to confer that Kazemi had expended energy at such a feverish pace that he committed a turnover out of sheer fatigue in the second half of the Owls' 75-62 victory over McNeese State. Miscues of sincere effort Braun can live with, and given how much Kazemi pours into every second he is on the court, all Braun craves from Kazemi is his remembering what his tireless effort yields.

What is more pressing at this juncture is getting Kazemi more shot attempts. Rarely can a freshman produce so much so efficiently, but Kazemi seems to be an exception. He earned his way into the starting lineup with volume rebounding, and after recording his third double-double on the season against the Cowboys (16 points, 10 boards), Kazemi bumped his averages to 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 22.6 minutes/game. It became clear weeks ago that Kazemi is an able facilitator on offense, and the more he touches the ball on the low block the better the Owls are at getting good looks at the basket. Kazemi is shooting 55.1% yet has taken at least 10 shots in a game only twice (North Texas and LSU). That has to change, but coaxing the unselfish Kazemi to go against his nature is easier said than done.

"We've got to get him to square up and look at the basket a little more," Braun said. "He also takes what the defense gives us and he's now starting to earn the respect of his opponents. People are getting in there on him, so he either has to make a quick move or get the ball to open guys. But he's a good passer and he does a good job - he really does. We're looking (for ways to get Kazemi more shots)."

An expanded role is in the offing for Fr. G Tamir Jackson, too. Braun played Jackson off the ball after the opening tip and during spells throughout the game. Jackson has experience on the wing and took to the alteration swimmingly, producing another strong effort (18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals) on the heels of steadying performances at LSU and at Lamar.

Jackson is averaging 17.3 points on 50% shooting over his last three games. His decision-making on when to shoot has improved dramatically, and if Braun can continue to maximize Jackson's offensive potential by splitting his time at both guard positions, perhaps Jackson can shorten the learning curve most freshmen guards must traverse early in their careers.

"Tamir showed his versatility," Braun said. "He played on the ball and he played off the ball, and he played it equally well. That was good."

Said Jackson: "I do feel more comfortable. It's just taking every day in practice and working hard, listening to Coach Braun, playing my game, staying poised and staying calm and not trying to force too many bad shots and passes. Just getting people open to make our team better (is key)."

Sounds simple enough, but Braun knows that his team will develop in lockstep with Jackson and Kazemi. The faster they mature the better the Owls will perform, and in the grand scheme of things, exceptional team performances outweigh any individual statistical achievements.

"I'm happy whenever my team wins," Kazemi said. "All I try to do is win the game. I don't care how many rebounds or how many points (I record), all I want is to win the game. That's really important for me."

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5 Comments

Ups and downs... take a step back and look at the 2 year trajectory. I love the progress this team has made, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the season unfolds!

MK, i know it's a bit early, but it's been on my calendar for a while, do you have any thoughts on how the conference opener against Houston will go with some of the performances the team has given of late?

msburcham: I feel better about the conference opener being at the House of Tudor. Until this team proves that it can win on the road, I will continue to expect inconsistent performances. The funny thing about UH is that it has been up-and-down, too. If the Owls defend the perimeter well and get some semblance of scoring in the paint, they could win. That means solid games from Stanton/Kupiers and Braimoh. - MK

I'm just sitting here this morning early in the new year thinking about how appreciative I am that Rice U brought you in, MK, to do your thing. It's a real pleasure having you to provide your colorful commentary on all things to do with "the R."

TFW: Many, many thanks. Been under the weather lately but am back in the saddle and ready for what the new year has in store. - MK

MK -- What are your thoughts on yet another road loss, and, from what I understand, not a very strong effort? I think I understand home court advantage, but this is getting ridiculous.

owl-1983: I think the problem is systemic. The newcomers signed by Braun and playing significant minutes aren't willful enough at this early stage in their careers to influence those who have been losing on the road for years. I am amazed that it is taking this long to change the culture of this program, but clearly it is. How else do you explain losing that badly to a poor TCU team? It makes zero sense. - MK

What do you attribute our dismal road performances to? I thought the LSU was the turnaround for this team away from home but obviously not. To date this is the biggest disappointment and surprise to me.

Tiki: This team does not have a road warrior mentality - yet. It needs a landmark victory, but I can't predict when that will come, especially off the TCU loss. - MK

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