“Let it roll off the tongue: Ali Farokhmanesh. Get used to it: Fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH.”
“When you’re a small program like this, you want to get your name out there.”
The name Ali Farokhmanesh is not a common name in Iowa. Probably not common in entire the United States. But it is a popular one here now and across the country. This week’s Sports Illustrated has a picture of Ali on the cover and I thought I’d explore how Ali made a name for himself and found national fame. (Screenwriters and non-sports fans stick with me a minute.)
When his parents moved to Iowa when Ali was a teenager he took up the game of basketball because of its popularity here. His parents helped train him with techniques such as having Ali shoot over them holding a broom with a yardstick to simulate playing against taller players. At Iowa City West High School he was a two-time all-conference player, conference MVP, and first team All-State.
Are you starting to get the picture? That darn Iowa work ethic at play again.
But all those accolades did not result in a Division I scholarship that he had hoped for because Ali was not tall enough to be considered a major prospect. Nor did he receive a Division II scholarship. He ended up playing basketball in Ottumwa, Iowa at Indian Hills Community College his first year and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids his second year. He played well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa where he started his Junior year. This season as a senior he lead the team in three-point shots with 75, including six in one game.
Of course, his biggest three pointers were last week when one beat UNLV at the NCAA basketball tournament and the one that broke the back of the number one ranked Kansas Bluejays. Ali said after the Kansas game, “That’s what you dream for is to make a shot like that.” But along with his dreaming he also normally practices shooting between 600-700 jumps shots a day—and he’s been doing that since his junior high days. (Remember the 10,000 hour rule?)
That’s how he ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s how he made a name for himself (albeit a hard one to pronounce).
“I just remember coming out of high school and not knowing if I was even going to play anymore. To go from that to, we’re in the Sweet Sixteen, we just beat the No. 1 team in the country. I mean, if someone would have told me that back then I would have laughed at them probably. But I think it shows that hard work really does pay off.”
I don’t know if Ali is interested in screenwriting (he’s a marketing major) but he’s got a heck of a story, and I think he just became the current poster child for Screenwriting from Iowa. That person who is talented but underrated and overlooked, and ends up in a community college in Ottumwa, Iowa dreaming of hitting a game winning shot in the spotlight. The person who works on his game far from the spotlight, but who with one shot makes a name for himself. And who ends up on the first page of Google search for “Ali,” replacing a slot usually reserved for one of the most well-known names in sports history, Muhammad Ali.
The funny thing is if he would have gotten a scholarship out of high school to his dream school (the University of Iowa) the odds are pretty good that he wouldn’t have hit the game-winning shot against Kansas that will be talked about for years, he wouldn’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he wouldn’t be playing tonight as the Northern Iowa tonight in the Sweet Sixteen game for the first time in the school’s history.
(Below are a couple photos I took Wednesday as Ali and the team boarded the bus here in Cedar Falls before they headed to St. Louis for their next game agaist Michigan St.)
And just to bring this home to screenwriting; embrace your limitations, your odd location, hold on to your dreams, and practice the equivalent of 600-700 jump shots everyday.
P.S. And for the record Ali Farokhmanesh’s favorite film is Gladiator. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
Related post: David & Goliath (and Screenwriting)