Playing Basketball in the 'Axis of Evil'

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Former Tulane University basketball player Waitari Marsh, an American citizen, has made a dramatic career move: He now plays for a team in Iran. Madeleine Brand speaks with Marsh about living and playing point guard for the Pega Hamedan team in a nation President Bush has dubbed part of the "axis of evil."

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In the high-stakes world of professional basketball, thousands of college players vie for a chance to make it to the National Basketball Association; very few actually do. So what's an otherwise accomplished basketball player to do? For Waitari Marsh, the answer was play overseas, and he chose an unusual destination. After graduating from Tulane University, where he played college ball, Marsh took an offer to play for an Iranian team. I asked him why Iran.

Mr. WAITARI MARSH (Professional Basketball Player): At the time, you know, when I had first finished up my collegiate basketball, there wasn't anything really coming, you know, my way that I had really wanted to jump on, you know, that fast.

BRAND: Uh-huh.

Mr. MARSH: So I ran with the first deal that came across. And, you know, it was a pretty good opportunity for me to make some good money coming out of college and I just took it.

BRAND: So did you just pack up then, take your family and move to Iran?

Mr. MARSH: No, no. I mean, I just did my research. You know, I looked over some things on the Internet. I talked to actually an agent who was based in Iran, you know, as far as the safety. But as far as bringing my family, you know, I didn't want to bring them because I didn't actually know what I was getting myself into, you know. I mean, I wasn't--I mean, I don't want to say I wasn't afraid, but I didn't know 110 percent exactly what I was getting myself into, so I wanted to check it out for myself first.

BRAND: What was it like when you arrived there?

Mr. MARSH: It was so different, you know. I mean, after I got settled in and I met, you know, a few people, my safety was kind of like the least of my worries. The food was probably my biggest fear, just, you know, getting accustomed to the food because it was so different. But as far as the people, I mean, they treated me, you know, with the upmost of respect. So I didn't have any problems in that regard.

BRAND: And how tall are you?

Mr. MARSH: I'm 6'3".

BRAND: You're 6'3". So you must have really stood out.

Mr. MARSH: Yeah, but they have some pretty tall guys there. Like, they have two young guys, I want to say 20 and 21. One of them stands 7'6" and the other one is 7'4".

BRAND: But not a lot of African-Americans.

Mr. MARSH: No, not at all. I never thought I did stick out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So what was it like walking on the street there?

Mr. MARSH: I wanted to say it took me maybe about three or four months before I actually did step foot outside my home, you know, felt comfortable to go and walk to the corner store. But once I did, it was like all eyes on me. You know what I mean? I was the center of attention everywhere I went.

BRAND: And on your team, it's mostly Iranians?

Mr. MARSH: It's all Iranians.

BRAND: It's all. Ju...

Mr. MARSH: The rule is you can only have two foreign players, but you can have three on your roster but only two can actually play at the same time. So it's only me and another American guy currently.

BRAND: And you're the point guard for the team, I understand.

Mr. MARSH: Yes, ma'am.

BRAND: So you're leading the offensive.

Mr. MARSH: Yes, I'm leading everything.

BRAND: How do you communicate to your fellow players?

Mr. MARSH: For the most part, we have two players who can speak pretty good English, you know. So they kind of translate to the other players, but in basketball--You know what I mean?--it's a universal language almost. You know, like, my body language, I can use my hands for signs and get my points across. So it's not that hard.

BRAND: Well, how long do you expect to be in Iran?

Mr. MARSH: Every year I'm hoping is my last year. You know what I mean? I don't plan on never going back after I'm finished, you know. It's always, like, you know, if things aren't going well or if, you know, nothing is coming up that I really see is worth taking or is better than the opportunity that I've made for myself in Iran, than barring that anything happens with the political situation, you know, I'm OK in Iran.

BRAND: Waitari Marsh. He's the point guard for the Iranian super league team Pega Hamadan(ph). And, Waitari Marsh, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. MARSH: Thank you so much for having me.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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