Thursday, March 18, 2010
Ali Farokhmanesh delivers a big shot
By Pat Forde
OKLAHOMA CITY -- With time dwindling and Northern Iowa dithering and the ball not going anywhere near her wide-open son, Cindy Fredrick couldn’t watch.
"I had my head down," she admitted.
Finally, she looked up in time to see Johnny Moran snap a pass across the court to her boy. And as Ali Farokhmanesh rose off the ground from 25 feet away and flicked his right wrist, Fredrick and her husband, Mashallah Farokhmanesh, had a very good idea what was coming next.
Ali Farokhmanesh's critical 3-pointer lifts Northern Iowa past UNLV, 69-66.
"I knew with the rotation of the ball," Mashallah said.
He and his wife are both college volleyball coaches, but they have a solid read on their son's pretty shooting form. Two years ago, they stepped away from their coaching jobs to focus on their son, traveling all over the Missouri Valley Conference to watch him play the final two seasons of his college basketball career.
They drove their Honda CRX eight hours to Evansville, then drove back home the same night. There were also long journeys to Carbondale and Wichita. Wherever the Panthers played, Ali’s parents followed.
Having seen many of the undersized shooting guard’s 146 collegiate 3-point shots in person -- including four on this night -- they know what looks good and what does not. Ali’s teammates did, too.
"It was in," said Lucas O’Rear, watching from underneath the basket.
Ali? He had a feeling about it, too.
"I was 90 percent sure," Ali said. "It felt good leaving my hand."
It felt even better entering the net. With 4.9 seconds remaining, Ali Farokhmanesh -- son of an Iranian immigrant who came to this country in 1978 to learn English and wound up staying -- had beaten UNLV 69-66. He catapulted Northern Iowa to the second round of this off-the-chain tourney and become a household name-and-a-half.
To Panthers fans, this was an instant flashback to the only other NCAA tournament win in school history. That came 20 years ago, when Maurice Newby hit a deep 3-pointer in the final seconds to upset Missouri.
Now Newby has company in the annals of the greatest shots in Northern Iowa history. Thing is, it looked for the longest time as though the Panthers were going to blow that possession.
Point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe was trying to dribble down the clock, but the Rebels were having none of it. Their pressure defense had gotten them back into the game after trailing by nine points, and they were blitzing Ahelegbe with a double team. Out near midcourt, he was nowhere near getting the ball into scoring position.
Finally, Ahelegbe got enough breathing room to hit Moran on the right wing. It looked like he might trigger the shot, but instead he threw it to the opposite wing.
"Johnny made the right play and got it to the best shooter in the country," Ahelegbe said.
The best shooter in the country was shot-ready, got his sturdy thighs underneath him and elevated as a UNLV defender rushed out, too late. The arc he honed in his backyard, shooting over his mom and dad holding up a broom taped to a yardstick, was perfect. The ball splashed and the Ford Center exploded.
Farokhmanesh’s response was much more pragmatic.
"Get back and play defense," he told himself.
With a big hand from O’Rear, who back-tapped away the ball out of bounds and left UNLV with just 1.6 seconds to get off a tying shot, UNI held on. Farokhmanesh was the man of the hour.
Years of obsessive practice ("Outside in the rain sometimes," he said) were instantly fulfilled. All the drill work his parents did with him was distilled into a single moment of perfect shot mechanics.
"He’d make us go practice with him," Fredrick said. "He was always practicing."
Practice paid off. Farokhmanesh’s parents will return to coaching volleyball in the fall at Division III Luther College, and they’ll take a lifetime memory with them from the shot Ali hit Thursday night.