Inside John Fanta’s unlikely rise to the top of college hoops media

John Fanta, the ebullient rising Fox Sports college basketball personality, spent the summer between his junior and senior years at Seton Hall sharing a room in a hostel in Los Angeles with a 60-year-old immigrant from Africa.

The Cleveland native had dreamed of being the soundtrack to sports since listening to — and mimicking — broadcasters like late Cavaliers voice Joe Tait, Browns announcer Jimmy Donovan and Guardians play-by-play man Tom Hamilton.

“I would watch an inning of the (then) Indians, and then turn the volume down, and then in the next inning I’d call the game from the family room — probably annoying to my other family members,” Fanta told The Post with a chuckle.

John Fanta is rising up through Fox Sports on multiple platforms. Courtesy of Fox Sports

His peculiar living situation between college years arose from a big opportunity to get his foot in the door in the sports media industry — an internship with Fox Sports.

Acclaimed Fox Sports producer Bardia Shah-Rais was an alum of Seton Hall and asked then-athletics director Pat Lyons if anyone would be interested in an internship.

While his travel and living expenses would not be fully covered by the internship stipend, Fanta, now 28, jumped at the opportunity, reckoning, “I’ll figure it out.”

John Fanta and Donny Marshall. Courtesy of Fox Sports

He lived in the hostel for three months in downtown Los Angeles with the African roommate named George, whom Fanta said, “came to America at 60 to try to make a better life for himself.”

At the internship, Fanta worked behind the scenes, helping with “MLB Whiparound” with Kevin Burkhardt, Chris Myers, Frank Thomas and Dontrelle Willis, and as a production assistant for Rob Stone, Alexi Lalas and Fernando Fiore on Fox’s Copa America soccer coverage.

“The first thing Bardia told me, and I believe this is the Fox way, is that ‘nobody wants to work with a jerk,’” Fanta said.

“I learned two things — who you are off the air is as important as who you are on the air. Don’t be an ass off the air! Be easy to deal with! People want to work with nice people. And No. 2, you can control how hard you work. And I credit my parents for that as well. Those two visions have been my gospel every day in my career.”

He first got into college basketball when he went with his grandfather, also named John, to the Wolstein Center in Cleveland for an NCAA Tournament game when Kevin Pittsnogle’s West Virginia squad pulled off a double-overtime upset over Chris Paul’s Wake Forest team.

John Fanta is a Seton Hall graduate. Courtesy of Fox Sports

“It was that night, when I was 10 years old, with no dog in the fight, when I decided March Madness was the greatest event in sports,” Fanta said.

Fanta was urged by his father, Gerry, who passed in January at 56 years old, to go to college in the New York metropolitan area because that is where the most opportunities would be to pursue his sports media dreams.

“He said, ‘John, it’s time for you to go out of your box in Cleveland. That’s where the opportunity is going to be,’” Fanta said.

“He said to me, ‘I see something more in you, and it’s time for you to take that passion to the next level.’”

Fans hold up a giant John Fanta picture at a Seton Hall game. Getty Images

He checked out Syracuse, Fordham, St. John’s and Seton Hall, landing in New Jersey when Lyons, the Seton Hall AD, told Fanta that there was an “open door” for him to jump in and cover the school’s teams.

“My dad and I looked at each other and said, ‘An open door to cover Big East men’s basketball? You gotta do it!’ … As opposed to waiting two or three years at Syracuse to call a game. It’s nothing against Syracuse, but I just saw a smaller pond where I was gonna jump in,” Fanta said.

“I knew I could walk right down the hill and take a 35-40 minute train to Madison Square Garden, and that the biggest college basketball games were in that building.”

Towards the end of his senior year at Seton Hall, Fanta was about to accept a job at a local affiliate in Midland, Texas, for about $35,000 a year.

John Fanta calling a St. John’s-Stony Brook game Getty Images

However, he got a call from Rick Gentile, a legendary former producer of “NFL Today” and the Olympics on CBS, who, at this point, was working with the Big East.

The two had lunch, and at the end of the meal, Gentile told Fanta that then-Villanova head coach Jay Wright was clamoring for the conference to get more basketball coverage during the offseason.

So it was, at their annual basketball meetings in the Spring of 2017, that the conference voted on creating a digital media position for Fanta.

He became the host of “Big East Shootaround,” and it was his first foray into being an on-air talent.

One year into the job, Fox producers asked the Big East if they had ideas for play-by-play broadcasters for women’s basketball and Fanta’s name came up.

John Fanta and his wife, Victoria, met in 2020. Courtesy of Fox Sports

One opportunity from Fox’s Geordie Wimmer in 2018 became what he said was “six or seven” the following year to about 15 in 2020 and 2021.

This past season, he called 35 games.

About two years ago, he was asked by Fox Sports Digital if he knew anyone who might be interested in writing a couple of college basketball stories a week and maybe making some videos.

Fanta volunteered for the job to the bosses, Michael Bucklin and Kevin Jackson, and his role there has progressed to the point where he was recently named the 2024 Rising Star by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

The Post has you covered with a printable NCAA bracket featuring the full 68-team March Madness 2024 field.

“I have a love for a little bit of everything, and I believe in today’s content world being versatile makes you more valuable,” Fanta said of his omni-platform roles.

Fanta married the love of his life, Victoria, in a ceremony on Sept. 1, 2023.

With literally thousands of games to keep track of in men’s and women’s college basketball, the marriage requires a balancing act, but Fanta said that “she’s my biggest fan — she comes to the games.”

They met in November 2020 as COVID-19 was still severely limiting interpersonal activity.

Fanta’s neighbors in his building in New Jersey invited him to go Christmas tree shopping with a bigger group.

John Fanta is a rising star in college basketball media. Getty Images

“I see this girl, who’s now my wife, and said to my neighbors, ‘She’s cute. Is she single?’ Within five minutes, a date was lined up,” Fanta remembered.

“We had our first date three weeks after that, and we haven’t stopped talking since.”

Fanta’s rise to prominence in media has presented some interesting opportunities.

Last week at the Big East tournament, for the second straight year, Madison Square Garden invited Fanta to be the person to toss bowls to Red Panda, the generational talent who flips stacks of bowls onto her head while riding a unicycle.

He was eager to avenge what had apparently been a poor performance on his part.

“Last year we struggled. We had a tough day. She was a little bit off,” Fanta said.

“So this year she said, ‘Can I talk with you?’ She said, ‘I want you to kind of go at at a different angle on your bowl tosses. Last year, you were kind of in my peripheral.’ So, if there was anyone to blame for Red Panda hitting kind of a wall in her career, it was me. But last week, she was perfect, hitting every bowl. It’s the honor for me to be able to toss her those bowls, and deliver.”

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