Farokhmanesh’s journey after Sweet 16

5 Ali Farokhmanesh shoots game winning three point shot 2010 NCAA Basketball Round 2: Oklahoma City Kansas vs. Northern Iowa Ford Center/Oklahoma City, OK 20-MAR-2010 X83917 TK1 CREDIT: Greg Nelson

JACOB POTTER, Sports Editor

Back in 2010, Ali Farokhmanesh hit one of the gutsiest shots in March Madness history to take down Kansas, the No. 1 team in the country.  After the Sweet 16 team was inducted into the UNI Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 21, the former Kirkwood Community College player-turned-Panther reflected on the feeling of shocking the nation.

“Elation,” Farokhmanesh said.  “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 represented UNI on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” after clinching the first Sweet 16 berth in school history.

At the time, the historic Panthers were set to take on Tom Izzo, Draymond Green and the Michigan State Spartans.  Panther fans were flocking to St. Louis, unlike Jayhawks, to support the Purple and Gold.

Michigan State had the advantage of seeing what the underdog team from Northern Iowa did to Kansas, and the Spartans didn’t take that 2010 team lightly.

UNI was unable to take down the Spartans, as they battled valiantly, ultimately falling 59-52.

UNI’s historic run is still remembered on a national scale, as March Madness TV posted a “Tournament Tales” video about that night in Oklahoma City.

“People thought Kansas would roll right through and get to the Final Four, but little did they know that there was this team from Northern Iowa,” said CBS announcer Kevin Harlan, who called the game. 

“Ali Farokhmanesh, who was probably, he couldn’t have been more than six feet tall.  In fact probably smaller, but he was built like this little pocket Hercules.  He had this swagger about him on the floor […] he did hit this gigantic shot with about half a minute left in the game,” Harlan said. “I gotta tell you out of all the games I’ve done, and I’ve done a couple in the tournament that really stand out, but individually what he did that day was the stuff of legends.”

That’s high praise coming from Harlan, who has been broadcasting since 1982, and for decades on national TV.

However, as one chapter of life closed for Farokhmanesh, the next opened with promise.

The 2010 NBA draft loomed, but Farokhmanesh went undrafted and would have to prove himself once again.

“Coming out of high school, Ali had zero Divsion 1 offers, and I think zero Divison 2 offers,” head coach Ben Jacobson said.  “He had none throughout high school.”

Farokhmanesh had fought against the odds before, as he went from having no college offers to working his way up in the college basketball world.  The Iowa City West High School grad started at Indian Hills Community College, and ended up at Kirkwood Community College before becoming a Panther. 

Many teams didn’t realize Farokhmanesh’s ability to shoot, but Jacobson noticed a diamond in the rough.

Jacobson and his coaching staff’s eye for talent brought a sweet result as Farokhmanesh kept shooting, contested threes to help take down Kansas in the program’s biggest win in history.

After the 2010 NBA draft, Farokhmanesh took his talents overseas, playing in Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands from 2010-2014. 

After his career overseas, Farokhmanesh decided to go back to school at Nebraska and became a graduate assistant coach for the men’s basketball program.

“I think it’s the same approach to be honest,” Farokhmanesh said on the transition from playing to coaching.  “Still competitive as ever … What’s fun about it is trying to get a group of guys to buy into a team atmosphere to accomplish more than they can individually.”

Following grad school, Farokhmanesh found himself in the Missouri Valley Conference again, this time as an assistant coach for Drake University.  In 2018, Farokhmanesh went with Drake head coach Niko Medved to Colorado State University. 

The former Panther is now an assistant coach under Medved for the Colorado State Rams.  From time to time, people will recognize that they are in the presence of the man that was part of the team from Northern Iowa that took down the Jayhawks’ star-studded roster with current NBA veterans Marcus and Markieff Morris.

“They’ll ask about it every once in awhile and what not,” Farokhmanesh said.  “Sometimes it will get brought up by someone else, and then they come back eventually and are like ‘wait, you were that guy.’  I don’t know if I just look like I couldn’t have done it or what.”

For the Panther legend, UNI will always be home, and the 2010 team will forever be family. 

“Obviously coach Jake has always been there for me,” Farokhmanesh said in an interview with Panther Sports Talk.  “Johnny [Moran] and Jake [Koch] are two of my best friends, so it feels like when I came back I hadn’t really left.  It feels like I could just hop back in, get the jersey on, put the shoes on, get out there and start playing again.

“[I] would like to be back at UNI at some point.  It would be amazing to come back here and experience it from the bench,” Farokhmanesh said.