With Connecticut surviving a wild NCAA tournament, the Big East has won five of the past 12 national championships. So, Awful Announcing thought this would be an excellent time to catch up with FOX Sports broadcaster John Fanta. Fanta also hosts the Big East Shootaround and provides commentary for The Field of 68.
Growing up in the greater Cleveland area, Fanta said he knew since the age of six that he wanted to be a broadcaster. Only 27 years old, the Seton Hall graduate has already covered five Final Fours. His first was memorable: Kris Jenkins’game-winner for Villanova to defeat North Carolina in 2016.
We spoke to Fanta about the Big East, which might be the most fascinating conference in 2023-24.
Awful Announcing: What was the vibe like in the UConn locker room?
John Fanta: “When you can walk into the locker room and you see Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Rip Hamilton, Kemba Walker that showcases why UConn is a blueblood. (Those) are big names. All of those guys have won. The Huskies are back. They’re back on a stage that these fellas put them on. And now Dan Hurley is doing it with his teams. (Most Outstanding Player) Adama Sanogo was fantastic. Jordan Hawkins showed a lot of personality. Andre Jackson, his leadership comes through in the locker room. The vibe was great.”
Adama Sanogo's message to everyone in Africa: "Believe in yourself. Anything is possible. And thanks for watching." pic.twitter.com/OrDyZ0ApPr
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) April 4, 2023
With the Big East winning another title, what does it say about the league since those schools don’t have access to the Power 5 football money?
“I would say the Big East is at the lead chair of the big boy table. No league in America had a better month of March than the Big East. It says a lot. These schools are basketball driven. UConn doesn’t win this championship if it doesn’t come back to the Big East (in 2020 after being in the American Athletic Conference for seven seasons*). It helped them in recruiting instantly. They fit in the Big East. The Big East is a basketball-driven league. UConn is a basketball-driven school.”
*Editor’s note: UConn plays football as an independent.
Bill Murray’s son Luke is an assistant coach for UConn. Where was Bill during the celebration?
“He was at center court after the game. He was talking it up with folks and enjoying every moment of it. He got shown on the Jumbotron once and got a standing ovation. One of the few collective standing ovations all night. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with him, but he was there with his grandchildren, with his family. Bill is awesome. I was lucky to spend some time with him (at the West Regional). He couldn’t have been more gracious with his storytelling and providing a couple of laughs. I grew up watching Bill Murray and still watch Bill Murray movies. That was really, really cool.”
NEW: I went 1-on-1 with Bill Murray after UConn punched its ticket to the Final Four.
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) March 26, 2023
What do you think about Rick Pitino returning to the Big East to coach St. John’s?
“It’s a massive move. It’s potentially a conference-changing, sports-shifting move because Rick Pitino instantly gives St. John’s credibility. He is the epitome of a winner. He’s going to bring in high-end talent. He’s going to win. It’s not a matter of if but when. He’s especially going to win in our current climate. He doesn’t need to latch on to 3, 4, 5-year players. He can go into the portal and bring in somebody who’s going to help him. He’s got backing from his donors. He’s going to have the NIL money. St. John’s is going to be a force if he does it the way he’s done it throughout his career. And he’s going to get Madison Square Garden going again. I think this is a home run in every way by St. John’s.”
"We’re going to build it back up. No question in my mind. It’s gotta be done right away because I don’t have a lot of time. I mean, I’m not going anywhere. But you have to do it right away in New York. Patience is not a virtue in New York." — Rick Pitinopic.twitter.com/3MH7f0B2ds
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) March 22, 2023
Does anything about Ed Cooley leaving one Big East school in Providence for another in Georgetown strike you as odd? That’s something you would see in SEC football.
“It’s shocking to see that someone who was so part of the fabric of the school and the community in Providence would leave. Could it have been handled better? Yes. 100 percent. I get why Georgetown reached out to Ed Cooley. If you’re Georgetown and you’ve been losing for years, you say ‘You know what? We know it’s a dramatic move, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.’ Then that puts the ball in Ed’s court. Ed makes the decision that he felt was best for him. …(With) Georgetown, you’re talking about at one time one of the defining brands in college basketball. So, if you can (win), that builds his national legacy. But it doesn’t mean that the move within the conference isn’t one that stings and causes major shockwaves. His return to Providence next season will be as anticipated of a matchup in the regular season as any in college basketball.”
The 1-on-1 with Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman after UConn won its fifth national championship. On the marriage between the Huskies and the league, and the loaded storylines across the conference that have headlined college hoops in the last month:pic.twitter.com/NmQviWmuzr
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) April 4, 2023
How will Cooley’s replacement, Kim English, fare at Providence?
“I think that Kim English is a star. …For Providence, I give them a ton of credit. It’s not easy to replace a guy on the fly. When that happens you feel like you got punched in the gut because you lost your guy in Ed Cooley. But man, they couldn’t have found a better replacement, in my opinion. I think you’re getting a guy on the rise who might not have been available in 2 to 3 years. He can really coach. Everything I’ve heard about Kim is that he is relentless.”
What’s going to be the big story in the Big East for 2023-24?
“Who’s the best team in this conference? Marquette won the regular season and tournament crowns. Well, is UConn the best because they won the national championship, and they’re going to have a good amount of their core back? Creighton is a team that’s dangerous if they bring back their core. Greg McDermott is one of the better coaches in the country.
Rick Pitino is a massive story. He’s compelling, and polarizing, and that makes him extremely watchable. What does Georgetown look like in Year One under Ed Cooley? Are they a factor? For the first time in several years, Villanova is coming off of a rough season. What does Year 2 of the Kyle Neptune era hold? Justin Moore is back and he could be the Big East Player of the Year. Will Villanova be back? We’ll see.”