WELS, Austria — It’s been nearly three years since Ali Farokhmanesh sent University of Northern Iowa basketball fans into delirium with his huge 3-pointers to beat UNLV and Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
He has since learned Italian, played in Switzerland and Austria and visited some of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Ah, the life of a professional basketball player.
Farokhmanesh left Cedar Falls in 2010 to begin his professional career in Europe, landing in Switzerland to play for the LNA league club SAM Massagno.
“My first year in Switzerland was tough at times. We were a lower budget team, so it was a tough game for us each night out. But we surpassed the expectations the club had set for us that year,” said Farokhmanesh, who helped Massagno finish eighth in the league and reach the playoffs.
“You don’t really realize the business side of basketball until you get over here. I think that was the biggest adjustment coming from UNI to Massagno. I had a solid year individually in terms of statistics, but also gained a lot of experience playing the point and running the show.”
Farokhmanesh averaged 19.5 points, 3.1 assists and 2.2 rebounds during the 2010-11 season. But his time in Europe — where teams practice twice a day and play once a week — was so much more than basketball.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better location. It was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and the people there took such good care of me,” he said of Massagno, a town of about 6,000 residents on the northern border of Italy.
“Massagno had that Mediterranean climate, but then you had the Alps in the background. It was one of the most unique places I have ever been. It got cold in the winters, but the winter was nothing compared to the winters in Iowa.”
He also took advantage of the club providing free Italian lessons twice a week for an hour — Switzerland has three languages (Italian, French and German) with Massagno in the Italian-language part of the country.
“I really enjoyed it and by the end of the year I could put sentences together and understand what people were saying most of the time,” said Farokhmanesh.
While he was learning Italian off the court, the Pullman, Wash., native was getting drilled in the pick-and-roll offense on the court.
“I feel like I am really settling into the pro game now. We didn’t run pick and rolls all that much in college, but that is basically what most offenses consist of over here,” he said.
“I really enjoy that part of the game, reading and reacting to the defense off the pick-and-roll. For a point guard, that is key to settling into the pro game. You really feel like a quarterback.”
For the 2011-12 season, Farokhmanesh took a step up and moved to the Austrian Bundesliga — still a mid-to-lower level league in Europe — to play for the WBC Raifeisen Wels club.
“It was a good move coming to Wels, on a team that had the capabilities to compete for a championship. So, I was really excited at the opportunity to have a successful season and getting to run the show on a team that had a lot of talent around me,” said Farokhmanesh.
He averaged 13.6, 3.4 assists and 1.9 rebounds last season for Wels, which finished the regular season in fourth place and reached the semifinals of the playoffs with the likes of Quentin Pryor from Morehead State, Todd Brown from Wright State and top-notch players from the NCAA Division II (Logan Stutz) and Division III (Joe Werner).
This season’s Americans at Wels are Tyler Tiedeman from Boise State, DeVaughn Washington from Ohio University and former Richmond star David Gonzalvez. But the team has struggled thus far this season, ranked seventh of 11 teams.
Farokhmanesh has still performed at a high level, averaging 14.1 points, 3.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds through 20 games.
But he also continues to enjoy living in the heart of Europe — with the city of Wels, with a population of about 60,000, about an hour’s drive from Salzburg and about two hours from Munich and Vienna.
“Wels is a great city, too. I have been very lucky with the towns I have played in. We are so close to a lot of pretty great cities in Central Europe,” said Farokhmanesh.
“The best part about living in Europe is probably being able to visit and see all the amazing cities in Europe. There is so much history and amazing architectural structures, that you don’t have in the States. You read and see pictures of all these places, but to see them in person is a completely different thing.”
Over the long term, Farokhmanesh would like to improve his game and jump to higher leagues in Europe.
“In five years, hopefully I’ll be competing at a championship level in one of the top leagues in Europe,” said the 24-year-old playmaker.
One thing Farokhmanesh will always have on his resume are those two shots in the NCAA Tournament.
“People still ask about the tournament in 2010 every once in awhile. It is funny to re-visit it every now and then. Even my Austrian teammates brought it up when I first joined the team. It makes it fun and is a good conversation starter.”