Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh, who grew up in Pullman, has been star of NCAA tournament
Ali Farokhmanesh, who grew up in Pullman as son of Washington State volleyball coach Cindy Fredrick, hit two huge shots to send Northern Iowa to Sweet 16.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Only in the NCAA tournament.
One day, you're just a guy, an average college basketball player doing your routine things. A few days later, you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and nobody can believe your guts.
This is Ali Farokhmanesh's world, answering questions from the CBS studio crew, sitting in with Dan Patrick on the radio.
"It's been ridiculous," said Farokhmanesh (say Fuh-ROAK-man-esh) on Tuesday from little Cedar Falls, Iowa. He put the number of interviews he's done since last week at "probably over a hundred."
If that sounds a little bloated, there is probably no overstating the historical impact on the NCAA tournament of a kid who grew up in Pullman, son of the former volleyball coach at Washington State, Cindy Fredrick, and her Iranian husband and assistant coach, Mashallah Farokhmanesh.
First, Farokhmanesh drained a 25-footer with seven seconds left to give his Northern Iowa team a 69-66 victory over UNLV.
Then came Kansas, the tournament favorite. When UNI's lead had shrunk to a point at the 40-second mark and it was turning the ball over, the Panthers hurried the ball upcourt against a frantic KU press, and here was Farokhmanesh, stationed beyond the arc on the right wing, unguarded, with a decision:
Pull the ball out, do the textbook thing, and hope that UNI could maintain possession, burn clock and hit free throws? Or, gasp, let it fly with 36 seconds left, 29 on the shot clock?
"What were you thinking?" his Kirkwood junior college coach, Dave Wagemester, asked Farokhmanesh when they talked Sunday.
Farokhmanesh reasoned that UNI had just been mistake-prone with the ball, and he didn't want to risk another miscue. So he did what he does.
"It doesn't defy 'Ali logic,' " said Wagemester. "It makes 'Ali sense.' That kid can make those kinds of shots."
Swish. Down went the Jayhawks, 69-67, in one of the great upsets in the history of the tournament.
It wasn't just that Kansas was an 11 ½-point favorite. This is a program that drips with tradition, the place where Phog Allen coached, where Dean Smith and Wilt Chamberlain went to school, a campus only 300 miles from Northern Iowa.
It wasn't that Farokhmanesh cast up a desperation three, with no choice. In an instant, he dismissed the possibility he might be remembered for a doofus decision and simply trusted himself.
"Honestly, I never thought about missing the shot," he said.
"You always have that confidence. It just comes naturally to think it's going in."
People say this is a good thing to happen to a very good kid. He spent almost all of his first 16 years in Pullman, and remembers sitting on the end of the volleyball bench at the age of 4 or 5 during WSU games. A few years later, he'd steal off with a friend and when Fredrick would ask him if he'd watched the game, he'd admit they were off shooting baskets and she'd roll her eyes.
He came to know WSU basketball and football players. Ryan Leaf came to his ninth birthday party.
"Jason Gesser used to baby-sit me," Farokhmanesh said. "He was probably my idol."
His parents took the volleyball job at Iowa in 2004 after his sophomore season in high school. He played for Iowa City West High but didn't get a Division I scholarship offer.
"We saw how devastated he was," Fredrick says. "It just broke our hearts. No one had worked harder. We felt he was pretty skilled, and he had the heart of a champion. It killed us to see no one seemed to see that."
The disappointment continued at Indian Hills JC in Iowa, a high-powered program where Farokhmanesh had a bad experience. He transferred to Kirkwood, where he says Wagemester returned his confidence to him.
"Clearly, his biggest strength is shooting the ball," Wagemester said. "But Ali is so smart and tough. He's the equal of any player I've ever coached at having the best feel, of who needs the ball when, of understanding time and score in the game."
With UNI pitted against Michigan State on Friday night in St. Louis, you can only imagine the buzz in rural Iowa.
"It's surreal," said Wagemester. "It just makes me feel good about being a part of intercollegiate athletics. There's some bad stories out there, too."
In his bio on the Northern Iowa Web site, it says Ali Farokhmanesh's favorite sports memory was qualifying for the state high-school tournament at Iowa City West.
Yeah, he said. That's going to need some updating.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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