When Arsalan Kazemi was picked 54th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, he knew his elevation to the sport's elite competition was about more than progressing his own career.
"I don't do this just for myself and my family," the NBA's first Iranian-born player to be drafted declares on his official Twitter page. "I have the whole country on my back."
And for Kazemi his success is not just about shouldering that weight of expectation.
"I was more excited for my country," the 23-year-old told CNN. "For the kids that play basketball and have a dream to one day make it to the NBA. I want to show them it's possible."
Kazemi fell in love with basketball at age nine while growing up in Esfahan, Iran, playing outside and disturbing his neighbors at all hours of the day.
"He loved it. He played every day," says his mother, Roya Kazemi. "We made him a hoop in our backyard and I bought him his first basketball."
Within three years, he was a rising star on Iran's junior national team "playing with guys a lot older than me" and in 2007, when still just 16, his talents caught the eye of a man who would change his life, persuading him to come to the United States where he's now about to start a career in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Kazemi became the first Iranian ever to be drafted by an NBA team in June.
"I worked hard to make it, and now I have to fight even harder," said Kazemi, who is a 6-foot-7 power forward with the Philadelphia 76ers.
"It won't be easy. But it's been like that for me since the day I moved here."
His journey began at the 2007 West Asian Games tournament when Kazemi's ferocious rebounding and defensive skills against Syria gained the attention of Texas-based sports broadcaster Anthony Ibrahim.
"His team lost the ball half-court," Ibrahim said. "Arsalan chased the ball opposite floor and out of nowhere you see him come from the left side all the way to the basket to block the shot."
Kazemi grew up watching the NBA commentator every Friday on Alhurra TV, a Washington-based network that broadcast games in Iran.
While most scouts saw no reason to take the risk of traveling to the Middle East, Ibrahim often visited the region to bring young, talented athletes back to the States.
Ibrahim, a native of Lebanon, wanted to draw attention to countries where college coaches show little interest.
"It was hard to sell," he said. "When I told people about the talent, they would say 'What, a kid from Iran that can play? What are you talking about?'"
Ibrahim used their athletic ability to help secure scholarships at schools across the nation.
"My goal was always to get these kids education through basketball," he said. "But when we saw AK's level of talent...I said wait a minute, he's got a chance to go pro."
Ibrahim took video of Kazemi to a friend, the general manager of the Lebanese national team; they both decided he "needs to play at a higher level."