Sweet 16 team enshrined in UNI HOF

JACOB POTTER, Sports Editor

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The magical run by the 2010 Sweet 16 team will now officially be forever commemorated at UNI after the team was inducted into the UNI Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 21.

“It’s special,” Ali Farokhmanesh said.  “The special memories that I have here, and to be able to come back … coming back to these events, getting this honor as a team and spending time with these guys, that’s what’s special.  Seeing everyone’s families and seeing people that I haven’t seen in years.”

Nearly a decade later, the Panthers have various careers in different parts of the country, but the run they made to take down the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks brings them back together as a team years later.  

“Just the camaraderie of being part of a team, I think those are the things that you remember like going to Blockbuster with my teammates, going out to eat, the late nights, the road trips,” Farokhmanesh said. “I think those things are what you remember most fondly once your done.”

The camaraderie of the team was still palpable from the time head coach Ben Jacobson took the podium to speak on the team’s behalf.  The veteran coach started his speech by bringing up one of the many fan favorites in Lucas O’Rear, and the joking nature of the team’s brotherhood shined through.

“Today, we were having a contest between this beard right here [Jacobson] and this one right here [O’Rear],” Jacobson said.

The joke was that O’Rear, who was known for his mutton chops, now has a full beard reminiscent of James Harden, while Jacobson has a light stubble.  

That lightheartedness knitted a tight bond between the group, giving them the ability to accomplish a historic upset over a team that had multiple future NBA players.

The team also had an unselfish approach, as a theme that prevailed throughout the group was deflecting the glory to everyone that was a part of the storied run.

The journey to make a deep March Madness run started with former head coach and player Greg McDermott, who is now the head coach at Creighton.

“It’s really important that we understand that Greg McDermott is the head coach who recruited Adam [Koch], Jordan [Eglseder], Kerwin [Dunham] and Kwadzo [Ahelegbe],” Jacobson said.  “This thing got started in 2008. This wasn’t one shot at the end of 2010.”

Coach Jacobson also detailed how the rest of the team came to be.

“Coming out of high school, Ali [Farokhmanesh] had zero Divsion 1 offers, and I think zero Divison 2 offers.  He had none throughout high school. When we took Johnny [Moran], teams in our league said he’s not good enough.  Nobody and when I say nobody, nobody wanted Kwadzo,” Jacobson said.

A team comprised of several players that went under the radar would be overlooked once again when they faced Kansas.

“Right after they announced our seed, the look on their faces was disbelief that they would dare make these guys a ninth seed,” Jacobson said.

The national media and Kansas didn’t give a team from Northern Iowa any chance to take down the No. 1 team in the country.

“The [media] asked me a third time and a fourth time … ‘What are you going to do with all their NBA players, huh coach?,’” Jacobson said.  “That first time or two I was being respectful, but I finally said, ‘Hey, I’m going to tell you something about these guys. They came here to win.’”

“They [Kansas] start talking to our guys saying, ‘I can’t believe your coach would say those things,’ [and they said] some other things.  Some of the best I can’t say this morning.”

Jacobson wasn’t worried about what the Jayhawks were saying, rather, he was more interested in what his players were doing in response to the trash talk.

“I don’t know how to describe this, but O’Rear is nudged up at halfcourt just walking sideline to sideline,” assistant coach P.J. Hogan said.  “He’s not saying anything. He’s just walking sideline to sideline.”

O’Rear earned the nickname of the team’s “resident enforcer” from coach Jacobson for quotes like, “Running their mouths.  Alright, let them run it.” 

The veteran big man was presumably channeling his disdain for Kansas in his sideline pacing after their trash talk.

“So the game starts, and it is 10-2 in two and a half minutes,” Jacobson said.  “At that moment I knew everything that had been going on for a year and a half; Kansas found themselves in a spot that they had not been in.  They figured out in two and a half minutes that they were in trouble, and it was too late. There was no way of getting out of this one.”

The basketball giant killers were able to take down Kansas because of their all-around, versatile roster.  The 2010 team was as complete of a team as they come.

“You want to play fast, we’ll play fast,” Jacobson said.  You want to play slow, we’ll play slow, but you better understand at some point the game is going to get physical.”

That’s where O’Rear came in, along with the seven-footer Eglseder, but the Panthers could also run the floor with Ahelegbe, and shoot the lights out with Farokhmanesh and Moran. 

Adam Koch, the Missouri Valley Conference MVP, led the Panthers, along with his brother Jake Koch.  Jake Koch was part of a strong second unit that included O’Rear, Marc Sonnen, Anthony James, Kerwin Dunham and many others.

“Here’s something we would’ve had no way of knowing,” Jacobson said.  “Our MVPs on this team were Brian Haak and Adam Rodenberg. Guys that you didn’t read much about.  I’m gonna tell you Kwadzo and Adam Koch could not wait to get to the game because that meant that they didn’t have to play against Brian Haak and Adam Rodenberg.”

As big as Farokhmanesh’s shot was, it wasn’t just about one play.  Both Koch brothers made game defining plays surrounding Farokhmanesh’s shot.  Adam Koch stole the game away from Kansas with a gritty late rebound and putback slam.  Where there was grit, there was also one of the gutsiest shots in March Madness history.  Following Farokhmanesh’s three, Jake Koch laid his body on the line to seal the game with a charge.  

Farokhmanesh still remembers the feeling of pulling off the historic upset.

“Elation.  More than that, it was kind of everything we worked for coming to an end … When you work that hard for something and it finally happens for you like it does; It was special for our whole group,” Farokhmanesh said.

For Jacobson and the Panthers, it truly was about the whole team, each individual involved and how it made everyone feel.

“We’ve all heard that people forget what you say and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” Jacobson said. “People talk about Ali’s shot.  They talk about it a lot, but whenever people bring it up to me it’s about how they feel.  How it made them feel. How this team made them feel.

“All these guys wanted to do, all they wanted to do was represent Northern Iowa the best that they possibly could.  They were gonna do it their way. The game was going to get physical. The rubber was going to meet the road. This here, these guys.  This is the road. I am tremendously, tremendously proud of these guys for who they are. Not what they did, but for who they are. The fact that they love Northern Iowa,” Jacobson said.

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