Read Sean Farnham's 10 Teams That Will Ruin Your Bracket Here.
Sean Farnham is many things.
He is first and foremost a husband and a father.
When he picks up the phone for what started as an interview about basketball but quickly turned into a winding Q&A about grinding, getting there and giving back, he sounds jovial, contented. He says it is “one of those good mornings.”
What he means is that as a man whose job requires him to be in a constant state of flight, either coming or going, delayed or departed, and with only prepackaged peanuts and airport food to eat in between, the “good mornings” are the ones when he’s at home and able to see his three kids off to school.
“It’s an excellent morning,” he echoes.
Sean Farnham is not a pilot. He is not an astronaut or a traveling salesman or a ringleader at Barnum & Bailey’s. Sean Farnham is a college basketball analyst for ESPN.
But he wasn’t always. His career in broadcast started at Fox Sports Net/West where he covered everything from West Coast college hoops to the NBA, MLB and college football, working both the pre- and post-game shows as well as the sidelines. During that time he also found a home on the radio with Fox Sports and ESPN 710 Los Angeles, hosting postgame shows for UCLA, USC and the Lakers. In 2008 he made the jump over to CBS College Sports as an analyst covering the MVC, Atlantic-10 and Conference USA and finally landed at ESPN in 2010, where today he’s holding down Big Ten Thursdays alongside Joe Tessitore and WCC Thursday/Pac-12 Saturdays with David Flemming.
“Getting to this point at ESPN was a process for me,” he says. “A lot of the top analysts at the national level were first team All-Americans, they were head coaches. I was neither. I wasn’t a first team All-American.”
But he was a player.
Sean Farnham was…a student
“I was the captain of the UCLA team in my final year, and I’m very proud of that, but my numbers wouldn’t jump off the page to anybody. I came onto the team in ’96-’97, and we lost our head coach three weeks into the season in Jim Harrick, but ended up going to the Elite Eight…Being part of that I felt a lot of pressure to live up the name of UCLA, and the fact that John Wooden would sit behind our bench at every single game was something unique and something that was special for me. I never took that for granted as a player, and because of that, I’ve never walked into any venue as either an analyst or player and felt shaky.”
Whether that has more to do with John Wooden or Sean Farnham himself is up for debate. Beyond evidence of the residual nerves and confidence left over from his playing days, one thing that stands out as striking about our conversation is that:
Sean Farnham is…prepared
“I try to watch about eight games on both teams as a lead-up [to the ones that he’s calling]. I look at tendencies and stats, road splits versus home splits…I try to get out in advance…get my game boards done before I even touch down in the city I’m in. Day of game, it’s all about feeling relaxed…asking for a couple of details, finishing off a couple of stories and then mentally preparing yourself to have a good show.”
Whether or not it’s part of that relaxing routine, one thing Sean Farnham is most definitely not…is a Harlem Globetrotter…though he occasionally plays one virally.
“That shot…I tried to act like I was cool and that I totally knew I was gonna hit it, but inside I wanted to scream…but I had to play it off and try to sell it a little bit…Earlier this year at Michigan State, I actually made the same shot, maybe a little closer, maybe 60 feet, I think the one at The Barn was 82-83, and it’s kind of taken on a life of its own…guys on the crew are like ‘ok, next game, what’re you gonna do?’ and I always say ‘guys, come on, I’m not with the Harlem Globetrotters; trick shots aren’t my thing...’”
Another perhaps more humbling wavelength prevalent throughout our conversation is his self-realization that…
Sean Farnham is…still a student.
“Early in my career, Bill Macdonald, who is the voice of the L.A. Lakers, taught me to just be myself and be comfortable on camera, not to put on a professional act and change my voice. He really helped me be comfortable in my own skin…And then watching Chris Myers [at Fox Sports Radio], he’s the consummate pro, deep voice, every night is the Super Bowl…He taught me a lot about preparation and what’s necessary to have longevity in this career…As I move forward, it’s guys like Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and Fran Fraschilla at ESPN that I continue to study. I really try to dissect how they’re calling a game and the stories they’re telling and trying to take the best of what they have and throw it in to what I’m trying to do to develop myself.”
But over the years and through his wife’s family connections to the military (her uncle is Admiral Michael Mullen, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Sean Farnham has also become a teacher…
The idea for Hoops from Home, a nonprofit organization seeking to bring free basketball camps coached and organized by current and former NBA and NCAA stars to children of military families, was hatched by Farnham in a hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“What many people don’t realize is that these kids are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome because, for the majority of their lives, their parents have been deployed. Look, I travel a lot in my job, but I can get on the phone and call my kids every single night. They can see me on the television screen. I can Skype or G-chat, we can have that interaction. That doesn’t happen for the men and women serving our country. They get maybe five or ten minutes every two weeks.”
Hoops from Home’s first event, held at Camp Pendleton last August and featuring NCAA standouts Orlando Johnson and John Jenkins and NBA center Ryan Hollins and coach Mike Brown, saw 150 kids enroll.
“It [Camp Pendleton] was one of the most emotional days of my life. For us to be able to give [those kids] a break, just for a day, was outstanding. The best part of that entire event? Nobody saw a dime for coming there, not one player, not one coach. They saw it for what it is and that’s what I want it to be. I want people to understand that these children have gone through a lot.”
And that mentality, that philosophy, that singular idea for Hoops for Home pretty much sums up Sean Farnham in a nutshell; he has always seen himself as part of something bigger, a whole greater than the sum of its parts:
“I talk with everyone who is on our crew, from our grips to our runner to audio, tape, graphics, producer, director, AD, I will talk to them all individually before I sit down…I think it fosters an environment that we are a collective group that are trying to put on a great show and if we do that together it’s going to be stronger than if I was just some guy who sat down and just wanted to call a game….That’s kind of the lineage of my career as a player…When I chose to go to UCLA—and I had offers to go elsewhere where I could have started and been a focal point early in my career, but I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. It’s kind of like wanting to be part of ESPN; even in my broadcasting career and being at all these great places—and I loved all of them—being at ESPN, you’re part of something that’s much bigger than you.”
Check out part two of our feature with Sean Farnham: