March Madness lessons extend beyond courts

“The madness.” Say those two words 11 months of the year and they don’t mean much. But say them in March, and they mean only one thing: the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Rewind to about 6:45 p.m March 20. The ninth-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers, hailing from the Missouri Valley Conference, are leading the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks by 7 points with 1:18 left in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

As the Panthers inbound the ball Kansas puts on a swarming full-court press, forcing two turnovers that lead to six straight points for the Jayhawks. With more momentum than a hurtling bowling ball, Kansas sets the stage for another come-from-behind victory in the NCAA tourney.

The Panthers finally break the Jayhwaks’ suffocating press with 35 seconds left, passing to a wide-open Ali Farokhmanesh toeing the 3-point line. With a one-point lead, most players would run the clock down, let the other team foul you and shoot free throws.

But Farokhmanesh thought otherwise.

In a play described by ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski as “the most audacious 3-pointer since Reggie Miller played the Knicks,” Farokhmanesh let fly a fearless three with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. The sound of the swish stung the hearts of Kansas fans everywhere.

If he had missed the shot and the Jayhawks won, it would have gone down as one of the most epic blunders of all time. But Farokhmanesh sank the ill-advised three, knocking off the top-seeded Jayhawks and sealing his name in college basketball history.

As college students, we can learn a lot from this extraordinary sequence of events.

Don’t be afraid of taking the big shot

Like “the madness,” college can be chaotic and confusing. But don’t let that deter you from your goals. When you get a shot at your dream, whether it’s a dance team tryout, job interview or study abroad trip, step up and go for it.

Take pride in who you are

No one in their right minds thought Kansas would lose to Northern Iowa, except for Northern Iowa players and fans (although I’m sure they were few and far between.) Confidence is crucial, and without it college can be an overwhelming place. Take pride in who you are, what you do and where you’re from. Make it one of your goals to surprise everyone with your future achievements.

Sometimes, it’s OK to go against the grain

Farokhmanesh took an unconventional shot that probably gave his coach an ulcer, but it paid off in the end. Once in a while, you’ll have the opportunity as a college student to create your own tradition and leave your own legacy. Take advantage of that opportunity.

But it’s not OK to be lazy

At 5 feet 9 inches tall, Farokhmanesh was overlooked by many Division I scouts. He spent his first two seasons at junior colleges before earning a scholarship at Northern Iowa. He worked extremely hard at his craft before he ever received any national attention, and that applies to students. You can’t expect greatness if you don’t put the work in.

So as “the madness” continues, students can learn from the fearlessness of Farokhmanesh and apply the lessons to college or any other activity in life.

Don’t be afraid to go for it.

Miles Trump can be reached at

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