In honor of every underdog team looking to knock off a top seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, we tracked down players who came from obscurity to pull off a stunning upset—and then, usually, returned to obscurity. Here we speak with Ali Farokmanesh, guard for the 2010 Northern Iowa team that beat No. 1 seeded Kansas.
You’ll remember Ali Farokhmanesh by one memorable sentence shouted in disbelief:
“YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS WITH THAT SHOT!”
These words came flying out of the mouth of CBS commentator Dan Bonner as Farokhmanesh’s final three-pointer splashed through the net. Leading by one with 38 seconds left, Farokhmanesh found himself alone behind the arc with the ball in his hands. Instead of running down the clock, Farokhmanesh went straight for the kill, lobbing a 21-footer that plunged the final dagger into the Jayhawks' hearts.
The shot sealed Northern Iowa’s biggest tournament win and secured Farokhmanesh’s spot in Panther folklore. Northern Iowa’s hot streak ended the following week against Michigan State.
The 5’10” Farokhmanesh went undrafted in the 2010 NBA Draft, and he eventually signed on with a team based in Switzerland. He currently plays in Austria for WBC Raiffeisen Wels, where he’s averaging 14 points per game and—perhaps unsurprisingly—leading his team in three point attempts.
What follows is his recollection from the 2010 tournament, along with what his life has been like since.
“We got screwed on the seed [#9]. But we looked at it as an opportunity."
"It wasn’t like we were completely off the radar. Throughout the better part of the season, we were ranked in the top 25. And we’d been in the tournament the year before [Northern Iowa lost to Purdue in the first round of the 2009 Tournament]. We were just in shock the first time around. The second time around we knew what to expect."
"I’d be lying if I said that when I stepped on the court against Kansas, I didn’t look down to the other side of the court. We respected the names on their jerseys, we’d seen them on ESPN growing up. At a mid-major school you work so hard to reach that point. That’s when I felt like, OK I made it, I belong here now."
"People remember that shot, but go down the list and so many guys made plays in that game. Jake Koch taking that charge. Adam [Koch, Jake’s brother] made some of the biggest plays of that game. We had a lot of things go right for us."
"I don’t think anyone could have prepared us for the media afterwards. It was one of the wildest experiences of my life."
"The whole run you had people from Iowa who weren’t necessarily even UNI fans that were excited for you. That was my favorite part of it."
"Playing overseas has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seven years ago I wanted to quit [Editor's note: Despite a stellar high school career, Farokhmanesh was not offered a scholarship at any college and played two years of junior college ball before signing with Northern Iowa.] Now I’m making a living playing basketball, and I’m seeing the world at the same time. It’s beyond my imagination."
"I don’t know how much longer I’ll be here. I don’t know if I’d be here if I hadn’t went to UNI and had success in the NCAA tournament. It’s been one hell of a ride.”
Check out the first entry in our series: (Mid-Major) Legends of the NCAA Tournament: Clinton Ransey.