John Fanta, the early years
Coming out of Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, aspiring broadcaster John Fanta faced a decision similar to that of many football and basketball recruits.
Go to the perennial powerhouse and risk sitting on the bench for awhile, or try a different path.
Fanta considered Fordham and Syracuse, each of which has sent numerous sportscasters to the big-time.
“I really liked the (Syracuse) campus,” Fanta told PirateCrew.com. “I felt like I could be a small fish in a big pond there. That didn’t mean I couldn’t achieve success there, but I didn’t like the idea of having to wait months, if not two years, to get on the air. That, to me, wasn’t appealing."
“I woke up one day,” he recalled, “and said I think I'm going to go to Seton Hall. I think it was a gut feeling."
“And a Newhouse (Syracuse's school of journalism) alum might scoff at me. I have nothing but respect for Newhouse. They're the gold standard. But Seton Hall has an open door. I knew if they gave me the autonomy to do some things, I can really add to the coverage of the school’s athletic programs. They really gave me a blank canvas and said what you want to do with it is yours and that works for me as a person and as a broadcaster and a journalist a lot more than just having to go through that system. That system is great but I found a comfortability early with Seton Hall because they said it is what you make of it.”
And Fanta has made quite a lot of it. He was interning for FOX before finishing his degree at SHU, and since graduating has become a fixture of Big East coverage both with FOX and its platforms and the conference itself and all of its digital and conventional platforms.
He says that while he was an undergrad at Seton Hall, “Here's one big thing. I made mistakes, young rookie mistakes.”
But he learned from them, including an incident early in his tenure when he wrote something that an unnamed coach disagreed with.
“For me,” he recalled, “it taught me a lot about how to handle situations. … I matured. I had to work through that. I learned a lot about accountability at Seton Hall because there are people who are willing to interact with students, and you can’t say that about every school."
“They said they put the student first, they actually backed it up and they did that.”
There were other reasons Fanta left the comfort zone of his native Cleveland.
“It was the media market appeal,” he recalled. “I wanted to be in the New York area. I wanted to get out of Ohio because I didn’t want high school 2.0. I didn’t want to go to a college in the state of Ohio and be comfortable in that setting because I felt that I would be really comfortable but I didn’t want to have it as though there were walls around me. I didn’t want to get stuck.”
“I also realized where the journalism industry was heading,” he added.
In other words, broadcast and digital were overtaking print.
“The job that I have now,” he said, referring to the Big East digital platform, “wasn’t even in circulation back then (in 2013), so that shows you how much this has all changed. The evolution of social media over the last five, six years has been astronomical. For me, it was about getting to the kind of media market that made sense, and getting to a school that would give me opportunities and also have the ability to achieve some level of success (athletically). Because at the end of the day, if Seton Hall’s teams stunk in my four years, let’s face it, my coverage would get limited to a point.”
Fanta said, “I believe things happen for a reason. I'm a man of faith. What were the chances that in my four years Seton Hall would win the Big East tournament? If you would have told me that going into my freshman year, I would have said, no chance. And I think everybody would have agreed with me at the time.”
The chances didn’t look much better when Seton Hall lost nine of its last 10 games to finish the 2014-15 season. But then came the turnaround, sparked by a virtuoso second half of the season from star Isaiah Whitehead.
Fanta found himself doing interviews on the floor of hallowed Madison Square Garden while the jubilant Pirates were cutting down the nets after their first Big East tournament title since 1993. Like most Seton Hall alums, it’s a moment he always will remember. In his case, personally and professionally.
“But I really got to cover the transformation of a program,” Fanta said, “and that really helped my brand at a time when the Star-Ledger and other publications were cutting, I was adding to the content.
“That was fate,” Fanta added.
Fanta jokes that as a Cleveland Browns fan, one needs therapy, perhaps a Browns Fans Anonymous group. He grew up an Indians fan in the days of Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, before LeBron James was a Cavalier.
Thus, “Basketball grew into a love,” he says. “When I first tasted Big East basketball, I couldn’t stop tasting it. "UConn coming back is going to be a lot of fun, it’s just going to add to the buzz."
"Still, baseball is my first love. I love telling stories, and when I'm calling baseball, that sport allows you to tell more stories.”
Fanta loves his alma mater, on and off the courts and fields.
“This is a place,” he says, “that gives you real-time tools and real-world tools to succeed. And I'm not just saying that, because I learned how to talk to people. When you interact with Pat Lyons, and the people on that (message) board are going to know, he talks to you like a real person, he’s got a great sense of dry humor, and when you learn that, and when you learn how to talk in those settings, it kind of helps you develop how you’re going to talk to people outside of that world."
“So I think of Seton Hall,” he added, “and I think of all the different people that I met, and it’s a people world. It's not about who you know, it’s about who knows you and I really enjoyed the community feeling of it and thought that prepared me for what I faced outside the Seton Hall community.”
Fanta believes that Seton Hall is in good hands with Lyons now in the role of executive vice president for operations.
“He's a father figure to me in my professional life,” Fanta said of Lyons. “He's a mentor, he’ll reach out periodically, I'll reach out to him. He's been there every step of the way. When I need Pat, I know I can call on him and he’s been very helpful for me in my career. I don’t have enough good things to say about Pat because he is outstanding in cultivating relationships, building relationships and helping you understand where you are."
“Pat always told me, don’t treat the coaches and the players like they’re kings. They're regular people too, that’s all they want to be treated as. If you’re wide-eyed and you look up to Patrick Ewing like, oh my God, you’re Patrick Ewing,.....he just wants to talk. That’s not who Kevin Willard is either, he just wants to talk. I learned a lot of that from Pat.
Fanta ends by saying, “Seton Hall is my favorite place on Earth."
Part 2 to focus on SHU basketball. Part 3 on the Big East