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IOWA CITY - Basketballs hit the rim and swish through the net as graduate manager Ali Farokhmanesh shags without pretense for Nebraska players about 90 minutes before tipoff in Iowa City.
Farokhmanesh's role last Monday was like that of every other former player turned hopeful coach. He tossed basketballs at his players during warm-ups and offered encouragement along the way.
He retired from professional basketball in June after playing four years in Europe. Farokhmanesh ended his career on a high note, earning sixth man of the year honors in the Dutch Basketball League. But his profile is different from most graduate assistants, however.
No player on Nebraska's roster has matched Farokhmanesh's flair for the dramatic, as evidenced in March five years ago. As Northern Iowa's shooting guard, Farokhmanesh buried a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left to lift UNI past UNLV in an NCAA tournament first-round game. Two days later, he became a legend with a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to pace the Panthers to a 69-67 upset over top-seeded Kansas in the second round. Farokhmanesh's image remains etched with historic NCAA tournament upsets, and he graced the cover of the March 29, 2010 Sports Illustrated.
When asked if he often recalls that moment, Farokhmanesh smiled.
'The only time is when people ask me about it or I see it somewhere. Then nostalgic memories come back a little bit,” Farokhmanesh said. 'But besides that, not a whole lot, just because I have so many other things going on now, getting into coaching and I'm learning. I'm going to school, too. But every time somebody mentions something, it always bring back a little nostalgia.”
Farokhmanesh has comparable feelings when he steps into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. His mother, Cindy Fredrick, was head coach and his father, Dr. Mashallah Farokhmanesh, was her assistant for the Iowa women's volleyball team from 2004-2007. Farokhmanesh spent countless days and nights shooting baskets in the arena while starring at Iowa City West High School.
He told Nebraska's players and coaches about his Iowa City experiences. Farokhmanesh even offered to give head coach Tim Miles a spin around his former school before the game.
'He says (last Sunday), ‘Coach, Iowa City West. I'm in the Hall of Fame. Let's go check it out,'” Miles said. 'He wanted the whole team to tour over there. But I respectfully declined. I trust him. I said, ‘Ali, you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated, come on. I kept the cover.'”
Farokhmanesh has faced plenty of adjustments since leaving Europe. He married former Iowa women's volleyball player Mallory Husz, and they became parents this year. He's back in college for two years and is on track to get his Master's degree in educational administration and coaching. His goal is to become a college basketball coach and praises his former college coach, UNI's Ben Jacobson, and his current Nebraska mentor for helping him grow.
'I definitely want to be a college coach,” Farokhmanesh said. 'It's in my blood. My parents are coaches. I don't think I ever had a choice growing up. It probably eventually was going to happen.”
Farokhmanesh started 69 games at Northern Iowa and averaged nearly 10 points a contest. He was one of the nation's best 3-point shooters with 152 3-pointers in his two-year career, and he hasn't lost his touch.
'If you ask Ali, he's the best shooter we have,” Miles said. 'It's hard to argue with him.”
That said, Farokhmanesh's coaching instincts have overtaken his on-court competitive drive. His points are made when the Cornhuskers make their baskets, not the other way around.
'I want to keep their confidence up so I don't usually shoot with them,” he said. 'I mess around with them, too. I hope they respect the fact that I just got out of playing. I know it's different for them. They see coaches as they don't necessarily understand what the guys go through all the time, but I just literally stopped playing in June. I completely understand the daily grind of it, and everything else that goes into being a player.”
As Farokhmanesh's conversation ends, a Nebraska player taps him for help on the court. He quickly walks away and offers instruction. That's what he's learned from Miles. There's a time for fun and there's a time to work. As long as he takes care of one, the other is a bonus.
'In reality, he's a humble kid,” Miles said. 'He's great to have. He's really good with the players. He's a really good coach. He's got all the right teaching points when he talks with our guys one-on-one or hangs out with them. He's got a great player perspective, but he delivers his message just like a coach. I think that's really important. We're really fortunate to have him in our program. He's been a blessing.
'But we're not going to Iowa City West to see his jersey.”
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