Panther hero points to future after historic madness runs

It might as well be 3 in the morning on Hudson road on the last day of spring break. A few lonely cars roll through the UNI campus under the pitch black sky and bright street lights past the lifeless J’s Homestyle Cooking, where days earlier ESPN cameras gathered to talk about the potential bracket busting Cinderela that the city hoped inhabited Cedar Falls. The roof of the UNI Dome can be seen for miles around and remains lit as some young straglers scurry to their dorm rooms while the eagerly anticipated countdown to 8:40 p.m. grows closer. The traffic lights still change despite the bare road lying underneath them. It’s a Sunday night, and the campus seems resemblant of an apocalyptic ghost town: dead. A switch on the radio dial in one of the rare passing cars to the iconic voice of Gary Rima 1,769 miles away or a quick 26 hours west on I-90 in Seattle would quickly reveal that thanks to the UNI men’s basketball team, the campus isn’t dead; it’s more alive than ever.

After beating Wyoming in the team’s opening game, the Panthers ran into the Louisville Cardinals at exactly the wrong time. Led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, the only coach in NCAA history to take three different schools to the Final Four, the Cardinals had one of their best offensive performances of the season against a UNI team that defensively ranks as one of the best in the entire country and beat the Panthers. Initial disappointment lingered for players and fans alike, but hearts are far from broken.

Thirty one wins is a school record. UNI was ranked inside the AP top 10 for the first time ever. A small town Iowa kid, Seth Tuttle, was named a second team All-American and will go down as one of the greatest players to put on a Northern Iowa jersey in the history of the school. No, this team didn’t win a national title like many optimistic fans hoped for, but the 2015 Panthers will undeniably always be etched in the record books as a success. This year’s team rejuvenated the fans to levels only matched by the team that put UNI on the national map after upsetting Kansas and advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

Even though fans are still enamored with the accomplishments of the 2015 UNI team, the topic of who was the better team between the two will inevitably be debated up in barbershops for years in the Cedar Valley. The cover boy for the 30-5 Sweet 16 team, Ali Farokhmanesh followed his alma mater very closely throughout the year and told me the two have striking resemblances. “They have more depth than we had. We both have unselfish play, a balanced attack and are hard to prepare for and can’t leave anyone open. Also, they have a great dedication to defense similar to ourselves,” Farokhmanesh said in an interview with the Tiger Hi-Line.

Four college basketball power houses remain in Indianapolis in the Final Four: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. Although the calendar has turned to April and three of those teams are No. 1 seeds and the other is led by a basketball coaching magician, Tom Izzo, this March like those before it, including 2010, has been filled with a max capacity of madness.

Farokhmanesh’s dagger remains the definition of madness, as in he must have gone mad to pull up from 22 feet away in the biggest game of his life, against the best team in the entire country, when every other person in the Ford Center in Oklahoma City would have pulled the ball out and tried to waste time.

For a name like Farokhmanesh to be uttered without mispronunciation in households across the country, something crazy had to happen. After all we are talking about  a 5’ 11” white guy who was born of Iranian heritage to two decorated volleyball-playing parents that had a last name that was enunciated incorrectly so many times that he was simply referred to as “Ali” by his own high school play-by-play announcer.

When something that crazy happens, people don’t soon forget, and it still gets brought up to him. “[The shot] gets brought up every now and then. More often now during March Madness, it’s brought up. It’s fun to relive memories that I will always cherish and keep close to my heart because those are my best friends and guys that I’m still really close to,” the Iowa City West product said reminiscing.

The shot that ended Kansas’ dreams has led to many opportunities for Farokhmanesh, and a lot has changed in the past five years including being able to play professionally overseas. His current task for the most recent season and next is as a graduate assistant coach for the University of Nebraska’s men’s basketball team where he is able to do anything coach Tim Miles wants him to do, including working with the scout team as well as recruiting. “The next step is to be an assistant coach at the D1 level,” Farokhmanesh said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a coach, and I’m on the right path to doing that.”

Coaching isn’t the only new adventure in his life, however, as he married his fiance Mallory, a former University of Iowa volleyball player, last June and the couple welcomed a baby boy named Tai who is now six months old.

Fans are once again filled with the exuberance that came with the triumphant defeat of the mighty Jayhawks with the help of Farokhmanesh five years ago. Thusly further proving that sometimes all it takes is a split second of incredible courage madness to achieve greatness.

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