Iffi Kazmi: Meet US-born basketball sensation who dreams of becoming first Kenyan in NBA

Iffi Kazmi in action for his school Chicago Prep Sports Academy. Photo: Iffi Kazmi Instagram

Iffi Kazmi: Meet US-born basketball sensation who dreams of becoming first Kenyan in NBA

Joel Omotto 08:02 - 06.04.2024

American-born Kenyan basketball sensation Iffi Kazmi has not turned pro yet but already has big plans for the Morans as he works towards making history by playing in the lucrative NBA.

Iffi Kazmi was not born in Kenya but he is itching to represent the nation and become the first player to from the country to play in the lucrative NBA.

The 18-year-old’s parents emigrated from Kenya to the United States of America 30 years ago but they never allowed him to forget his roots.

Kazmi is a hugely talented point guard currently playing at one of the US top schools known for nurturing basketball talent.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Kazmi honed his skills at the Chicago Prep Sports Academy before moving to The Patrick School in New Jersey last year.

It is during his time at Chicago Prep that he was spotted by Kenya U18 national team coach Martin Okwako who was awed by his massive talent and invited him to play for Kenya.

“I was named U18 team captain a while ago by coach Martin Okwako, he recruited me to play for the team and I am excited to go out there and play for my country,” Kazmi told Pulse Sports.

That was in February 2023 and although he is yet to turn out for the national team, he cannot wait to don the Kenyan jersey.

“I am looking forward to playing qualifiers for FIBA World Cup. Coach Martin wanted me to come this month [April] but I could not make it. I am looking forward to the next tournament,” Kazmi further said.

Ranked in the top 50 in the state of New Jersey, Kazmi is one of the high-level guards in US high school basketball. This is due to his consistent performances in national high school circuits which is the top league in the US for prep schools (basketball schools academies).

“We play grand session tournaments, very competitive basketball at the highest level of high school basketball you could play in the US. It is fun,” says Kazmi.

“We just came back from Las Vegas where we lost in the first round of the playoffs to a team from Texas called Pace Academy but it was an accomplishment because the year before, we did not make the playoffs.”

These high-level tournaments are preparing the 6'2" player for the next phase of his career. He is currently in junior high school and will be playing in Division One after that.

Kazmi still has a year to decide which college he will sign up for but it is a massive decision since his choice will determine whether he realises his dream of turning professional and possibly becoming the first Kenyan in the NBA.

“To get to that level depends on which college I am in,” emphasises the 18-year-old. “My first years I will be playing Division One in college. I need to be averaging 15 points per game and at least three assists. I need to put up some numbers.”

“However, when my team is winning while in college, it will attract a lot of eyes and gain a lot of viewership.”

Iffi Kazmi during training. Photo: Iffi Kazmi Instagram

Kazmi will need to play at the highest level in college for at least a year before he can be eligible to be among the NBA drafts, a time when talented youngsters are selected for various NBA sides.

With very few slots available from a pool of hugely talented players, the Kenyan prospect knows his work is cut out.

“I need to work out my body to get stronger, listen to my coaches and be coachable and not quit,” he says of what he needs to do.

“I am not the biggest player, other guys in the NBA are 6’7’’ so I really need to make sure I develop. I am a good shooter and I just need to keep working on my body and defence because it is every hard to guard at that level so I need to make sure that I am ready.”

Being ready for the NBA will also mean he is ready to take Kenya to the next level. The Kenya senior side Morans have showed improvements in recent years, reaching the finals of the FIBA AfroCan Championship in 2019 followed by a sixth-place finish in the competition last year.

Kazmi admits Kenyan basketball still needs a lot of improvements but he is backing the next generation of players such as him to lift the standards.

“I bring leadership, I can lead the next generation into success. I want to win the AfroBasket which is the top FIBA tournament in Africa and I want to qualify for the World Cup,” he said.

“Playing for the country where my family is from means a lot to me. I want to put it on for my people and family which emigrated here. There are a lot of guys playing for the US which is a very strong team, the best in the world. I feel like if I can play for Kenya, I can be a role model for the kids, people over there and give back.”

While he is looking to lead the next generation, Kazmi is keeping in touch with the current stars to understand what they are going through and perhaps what needs to change.

“I talk very often with Ariel Okal, Derrick Ongenchi and Albert Odera [also born in the US]. They are like my older brothers giving good advice and we follow each other on social media. Odera gives me advise on when my right time is,” said Kazmi, who has been a fan of Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry since he was 12.

The teen sensation is so determined to turn pro that he will not mind playing abroad if a move to the NBA does not materialise.

“I will finish playing basketball in college and will look to play overseas possibly in the Euro League or China. There are a lot of great leagues overseas and I would start considering that,” he said.

Kazmi is grateful to his parents who have ensured he is enrolled in the best basketball schools while also travelling across the US to watch him at various tournaments and he hopes to repay that dedication by succeeding in his career, which will also be a big win for Kenya.

Follow us on X (Twitter) for more details.