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Niko Medved says he’s a normal guy at the helm of a sleeping giant

The Colorado State head coach opens up about his life, hobbies, and rise through the Division I coaching ranks.

Syndication: FortCollins Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan

Niko Medved was the kid who helped plan and organize games for the other kids in the community.

“I was the connector,” Medved said. “It was just constantly playing outside, playing games, making our own rules with the kids in the neighborhood.”

Medved was an active and inquisitive child. Although he is now the Colorado State Rams men’s basketball head coach, he grew up with a pair of hockey skates like a lot of other kids in Minnesota. He was talented and traveled with a club team, but eventually his family decided that the sport was becoming too time consuming and expensive.

“It was that time of my life when I picked up basketball,” he said. “I fell in love with it. I thought this was the best and most beautiful team sport that there was.”

Around the age of 12 or 13 Medved started playing more basketball. He still played other sports, but he quickly realized basketball was special to him. By his freshman year in high school, Medved decided he was going to become a coach. He said he made the decision because he realized that, at best, he would be able to play at a small-college level. He also figured that coaching would offer more long-term opportunities than playing.

Having always been a person with high aspirations, Medved decided he would aim for the highest level he could. If he couldn’t play Division I, he would at least become a coach at that level.

During that time, University of Minnesota had the only Division I program in the area. Medved grew up as a fan of the Golden Gophers, so he decided to attend the school and become a student manager there.

“I went there with the idea that I really wanted to use that as an internship to learn about coaching,” he said. “I didn’t have connections at that level. I felt that if I wanted to coach at that level, I had to develop a network and connections.”

He spent his summers working as a counselor at the Nike All-American camp, along with Frank Martin, who was a high school coach at the time. Medved paid close attention to what coaches were doing in order to learn the ins and outs of their strategies. He said he had a hunger for knowing everything about how to coach a team and how to be good at recruiting.

Medved eventually took the associate head coach job at Macalester College, a Division III program, from 1997–99. He continued learning and networking, and eventually he got his foot in the door for a bigger opportunity. Then-Minnesota assistant Larry Davis got the head coaching job at Furman and offered to bring Medved onto his staff. Naturally, he accepted.

“So my master plan had worked, to develop a network in Division I and impress somebody enough to give me a shot in coaching,” Medved said.

The move to Greenville, South Carolina was not only the first step to a new level in his career. This was also the place where Medved met his wife Erica, to whom he’s been married for 10 years. The couple has two daughters.

Furman was a big leap forward, but Medved’s hunger to continue learning was still there. The next step happened as Medved was hoping to grab lunch with Dick Bennett. All he wanted was to share a meal and talk basketball for an hour, but Medved got a lot more than that.

“Next thing I know, he invites me out to his house and I spend a couple days at his house with him and his wife,” Medved said. “I felt like he just, for whatever reason, took an unbelievable interest in me and we became really, really close.”

He said one of the biggest lessons he has learned from Bennett is having confidence as a coach and simplifying complex problems. Medved said Bennett has been a terrific mentor and teacher for him, and credits him for where he is today. Of course, Medved has also paid it forward.

Colorado State assistant coach Ali Farokhmanesh had no recruiting experience and only about three years of coaching experience when he met Medved at Jethro’s BBQ in Des Moines, Iowa.

Farokhmanesh was at Nebraska under Tim Miles and Medved was the head coach for the Drake Bulldogs at the time. Farokhmanesh’s resume might not have been the most impressive one when he walked into that restaurant, but Medved didn’t really care about that.

“Right away, he kind of shaped the way I think of things. It’s not necessarily what your resume says, it’s the type of character that you have, the type of person that you are and the values that you hold,” Farokhmanesh said. “Niko values people more than anything else.”

The assistant coach said Medved is a competitive guy and is serious about basketball, but he is also not the type of head coach to text his staff at 3 a.m.. His life has balance.

“He’s easy going, he is into a lot of different things. He goes fishing, he cooks, he does gardening. I don’t have any hobbies, but he golfs, he does everything,” Farokhmanesh said. “I think that’s what’s cool about him. He is not just this basketball coach who is basketball 24/7.”

Some of his hobbies, like golf, show his competitive nature. Farokhmanesh laughed and said he is not even allowed to play golf with Medved because his game is not up to par yet.

It’s also not uncommon to hear him talk about his latest trip to the farmers market or what recipe he is currently working on. He makes a cajun boil that is supposed to be phenomenal, although Farokhmanesh couldn’t quite confirm this because he is still working on getting himself an invitation to try it.

The assistant coach said that working under Medved has given him a front-row seat to see Medved’s people-first mentality in action. One of the stories that best exemplifies this is when the team skipped a walkthrough two years ago before taking on the No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs on the road.

The Rams were a young team and were coming off an ugly performance against a bad San Jose State team. The Aztecs, an already intimidating opponent, were hosting senior night on a Tuesday. Colorado State was supposed to have a walkthrough the Sunday before the game, but Medved decided to play dodgeball instead.

“We just decided, screw it, these guys are tired right now and this walkthrough is not going to help us,” Farokhmanesh said. “That Tuesday, we had a shot at three to win the game with 30 seconds left. It’s a good example of him reading people and not sticking to a script.”

Farokhmanesh said this impromptu dodgeball game wasn’t something completely unexpected from Medved. The head coach builds his program by being good at understanding people’s needs.

Medved said people have a certain perception of what a college basketball coach is like, but sometimes that perception is wrong. He prides himself in being genuine and relatable.

“People sometimes are like, ‘wow you seem like a pretty normal dude.’ And I laugh and say I am a normal dude,” he said. “I think people who meet me see that I really just enjoy being a normal everyday person and connecting with people.”

This “regular dude” who enjoys home cooking and trash talks during cornhole games at team get-togethers also happens to be one of the best coaches in the Mountain West with a team that is expected to be at the top of the conference this season.

Medved was named the 2020-21 Mountain West Coach of the Year by Mountain West media. That honor wasn’t exactly a surprise as his team finished that season with a 20-8 overall record and 14-4 in the conference. The Rams lost to Utah State in the second round of the conference tournament but went on to play in the NIT.

Medved is entering his fourth season as the CSU head coach, and each year his teams have taken a step forward. This year, the expectations are even higher. The Rams are returning all five starters and their top seven scorers.

The head coach has come a long way from organizing games for the kids in his neighborhood. Medved said Colorado is a great place to live and is thankful he gets to coach the Rams. Although he is happy with what the program has accomplished so far, he said they are just getting started.

“I just feel like this job and this place is a sleeping giant,” Medved said. “We have so many things in place here to build a great program and to win at a high level. I feel like we are just scratching the surface.”