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An NCAA Basketball Star In Europe
Originally published on Fri April 12, 2013 1:37 pm
With a single, devastating shot, Ali Farokhmanesh became the face of the NCAA basketball tournament in 2010.
He nailed the 3-pointer that propelled the ninth-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers to a major upset victory over the tournament favorite, Kansas Jayhawks. It also put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After the season ended, Farokhmanesh was passed over in the NBA draft and instead went to play professionally in Europe. He spoke with Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin about life after March Madness, and why he feels he's still living out a dream.
On waiting for an offer
"Your agent's telling you that, 'Oh, you'll be fine,' and the months are passing and then your mom's like — every other day my mom was asking, 'So, any news? Any news? Any news?' And every day it was nothing, nothing. I still had a degree in finance. I had something to fall back on in case basketball didn't pan out. But, luckily enough, all those workouts in the summer paid off, and I got a job offer Aug. 10 probably. And I was on the plane 10 days later flying out to Switzerland on my own."
On the expectations of American players in Europe
"When you're an American, you're getting paid a little more, but also you're expected to score, to kind of lead the team. You're playing between 30 [and] 35 minutes a game, somewhere in there, and you have to produce or else there's 25, 35 people waiting back home ready to take your job."
On dreams of the NBA
I kind of understood that for an NBA team, they weren't going to really take a chance on a 5'11" white guy that plays the two guard. So, it wasn't ideal for me to be in the NBA at the time, but now I'm playing in Europe. I get to see things. My first year, I went to Rome and visited that. I've seen Prague. I've seen a lot of great things, and all the while I'm still playing basketball, and I'm getting paid to do it, so I can't really complain at all about that. Yeah, the NBA would be the ultimate goal, but I'm still living out a dream, I guess.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now let's take a trip back into NCAA tournament history to 2010.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Northern Iowa is going to have to shoot it before the shot clock runs out. Oh my.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Farokhmanesh got three.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1 AND UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Score.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You can't be serious with that shot...
ALI FAROKHMANESH: It was surreal, really. I mean, that was the thing, it was just overnight that that happened. That whole week, every single day, there was two, three, four, five interviews. And I remember walking into class and three people got down on their knees and started bowing. And people clapping when you walked in. I didn't sleep much that week but it was definitely something I'll never forget.
MARTIN: That's Ali Farokhmanesh. In the 2010 tournament, he was a senior guard for underdog Northern Iowa. That shot he made in the last seconds of that game knocked out top-seed Kansas, and it propelled Farokhmanesh onto the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After all the hubbub from the tournament died down, the waiting game began. First came the NBA draft; only 60 names were picked and Farokhmanesh was not one of them. He knew his chances for that had been slim. The real question was whether he'd get to play basketball professionally anywhere. And for him that meant going to Europe.
Our Sunday Conversation today, Ali Farokhmanesh on life after March Madness, starting with those long summer months following the tournament.
FAROKHMANESH: Your agent is telling you that, oh, you'll be fine and the months are passing. And then your mom's like, oh - every other day my mom was asking, so, any news? Any news? Any news? And every day it was nothing, nothing. I still had a degree in finance. I had something to fall back on in case basketball didn't pan out. But, luckily enough, all those workouts in the summer paid off, and I got a job offer August 10th probably. And I was on the plane 10 days later flying out to Switzerland on my own.
MARTIN: So ultimately you were selected by a Swiss team that summer. You played with them for a while. You're now playing for a team in Austria. What are the games like? What is it like to be on these teams? I mean, in America, our only reference point is the NBA which is this huge cultural phenomenon. And the people who play for the NBA are humongous megastars. How is that different than playing for a European league?
FAROKHMANESH: It's different in the sense that it's more of like a high school feel in some sense. It has that feel to it because we're in small towns. And it's a lot of fun because they take a lot of pride in this town, in this club, and it means something to them when we win and when we do well.
MARTIN: How many people come to the games, do you think, usually?
FAROKHMANESH: Two thousand or so, somewhere around there.
MARTIN: OK, it's a lot of people.
FAROKHMANESH: ...it's a little different than the Sweet 16 game. But it's still nice. It's a lot of fun and they're really passionate. If you've ever seen a soccer game in Europe, I'd compare it to that, and the fact that they have drums out; they're screaming constantly. You wouldn't expect it from 2,000 people to make it that loud, but it sounds like as if there's 20,000 people in the stands, just because they're that passionate about it. And I think that's what makes it fun, too, is that you can tell that they really care about the game and care if we win or not.
MARTIN: And as an American, do you feel any added pressure?
FAROKHMANESH: That's another thing. It's a whole another aspect because when you're an American, you're getting paid a little more. But also you're expected to score, to kind of lead the team. You're playing between 30, 35 minutes a game - somewhere in there. And you have to produce or else there's 25, 35 people waiting back home ready to take your job.
MARTIN: And what is an average week like? I mean, this isn't like a part-time job. This is a full-time workload, right?
FAROKHMANESH: Yeah, it's full-time and that's - I don't think my friends understand that. They just think I'm out here shooting baskets every other day and then traveling around to see Europe.
FAROKHMANESH: It's full-time. I'm pretty much either practicing or getting ready to practice.
MARTIN: Forgive the perhaps indelicate question, but are you making as much money as if you would have pursued Plan B and become some kind of financial guru?
FAROKHMANESH: I don't know. I make enough money. I don't have a lot of expenses, which is very nice. I don't have - they pay for my apartment out here. They pay for my car. Whatever I make, I get to save. And it's a good thing for me 'cause I can jumpstart when I eventually come back and settle down. We kind of compare it to putting your life on hold for a little bit because I can't start my actual career until I get back home. But it's definitely enough for me to be happy.
MARTIN: So you said this feels like putting your life on hold in some way. So what will it look like when you actually start your life? What is your long-term plan?
FAROKHMANESH: Right now, I guess, the short-term is just to keep playing to my knees give up on me, or something gives up on me. But right now, I'm just enjoying that. And then, going forward, it's kind of in my bloodlines, both of my parents are coaches. They coach at UNLV, so it's kind of in my bloodlines to coach.
I don't know. It's - I'll have to probably decide that in the next few years whether or when to go into coaching completely, or possibly go down that financial route.
MARTIN: I imagine probably every kid that grows up playing basketball dreams of going to the NBA. I imagine that was the case for you at one point. Was that a hard feelings to shake?
FAROKHMANESH: I don't know if it was a hard feeling to shake at the time because I kind of understood that, for an NBA team, they weren't really going to take a chance on a 5'11" white guy that plays the two guard. So it wasn't ideal for me to be in the NBA at the time.
But now I'm playing in Europe. I get to see things. My first year, I went to Rome and visited that. I've seen Prague. I've seen a lot of great things, and all the while I'm still playing basketball and I'm getting paid to do it. So, I can't really complain at all about that. Yeah, the NBA would be the ultimate goal but I'm still living out a dream, I guess.
MARTIN: Ali Farokhmanesh is a former basketball star for Northern Iowa. He currently plays professionally in Wels, Austria. Ali, thanks so much for talking with us.
FAROKHMANESH: Yeah, thanks for having me on.
MARTIN: Join the conversation on Facebook. We are at NPRWeekend. We're also on Twitter: @NPRWeekend or @RachelNPR. And tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, NPR's Tom Goldman will have results from the women's NCAA basketball Final Four. That and the day's top news tomorrow on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.