I have known for a couple years that Tyler Fantaskey was a great basketball player.
I learned it through experience.
I was a teammate of Tyler's in the 2010 high school season when we were both seniors. We were routinely matched up in practice due to our similar size, so I had the "privilege" of guarding Tyler during almost every practice.
Photos by Denny Kyser, left, Wade Aiken
Then, Warren Area High School senior Tyler Fantaskey (33), goes up for a shot. Now, Fantaskey, right, shoots for Division III Pitt-Bradford’s men’s basketball team. Fantaskey is growing, literally, and growing into his role as a sophomore starting forward and 3-point shooter.
Now, I wasn't much of a scorer, but I took pride in playing defense and defending players taller than I was. Tyler is 6-foot-4-inches, I'm 6-1 standing on my toes. I tried to be physical and not let the big guys get close to the hoop where they were more dangerous. A lot of the time, I had success with this tactic. Although I will admit this was not the case with Tyler.
One example stands out:
It was the first day of practice our senior year. We were running a routine drill that was essentially, 1-on-1. One player would sprint to the foul line and grab the ball, while the other would prepare to defend him. In this case, Tyler had the ball and I was the defender.
Tyler grabbed the ball and started heading toward me. He then turned his back in an effort to back me down toward the hoop. I had him right where I wanted him. I could normally push an offensive player out of scoring position with their back turned toward me, using my forearm and leg. So I started pushing on Tyler's back, trying not to foul him, while attempting to force him into a bad shot.
Tyler continued to back me down to the point where we were almost directly underneath the hoop. He realized this, I did not.
I thought I'd give him one extra strong push with my forearm to see if I could throw him off. When I did this, Tyler quickly pivoted to the right. I completely whiffed on my push, and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back, watching Tyler dunk the ball.
I got up off the floor, laughing along with most of my teammates. I glanced over at Tyler as I got to the back of the line. He had a completely serious look on his face. He didn't consider what he had just done to be anything special. To him, he has just scored two points. It didn't matter to him that he had just made me look like a fool and dunked over me.
He had a quiet confidence about him, a confidence that I thought would continually make him better. He has been proving me right ever since.
Fantaskey is now a starting forward for The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Division III men's basketball team. The Panthers currently have a 3-1 record. Fantaskey leads the team in minutes played thus far.
While he was classified as a "big man" in high school, he said his role as a Panther differs.
"My role offensively is to try to spread the defense and shoot when I'm open," said Fantaskey, a sophomore forward who averaged 5.2 points per game as a freshman in 25 games. "I don't try to do too much. This is different than high school because, at that point, I was the tallest kid and mainly stayed on the block. I shoot from the outside much more now."
Fantaskey's coach at Pitt-Bradford, Britton Moore, agrees with this assessment:
"Tyler has really improved his game from his freshman year," Moore said. "He has moved into the starting lineup and become one of our better shooters."
In the 2011-12 season, as a freshman, he shot a white-hot 47 percent (24-of-51) from 3-poimt range, which was good for first on the team.
Fantaskey said he was aware Pitt-Bradford did not have "a knock-down shooter." He thought that if he improved his shot, he'd have a chance to see playing time right away.
He started going to practice an hour early to shoot hundreds of shots in order to improve his range. This paid off in a big way. He gradually saw more and more minutes as the season went on.
Although Tyler has found success in both high school and college basketball, he explained that the two are much different.
"The college game is quite a bit faster than in high school" Fantaskey said. "In college, everyone on the floor is a threat and can score. Because of this, I had to improve my defense.
"One aspect of high school basketball that I really miss is the student section," he said. "Nothing that I've played in front of in college compares to what we had in high school in the Flannel Panel."
The differences don't end there. College basketball requires a much bigger time commitment than high school basketball. Practices are longer. Players are required to lift weights and watch film on a daily basis. But none of the extra work bothers Fantaskey, who says he wanted to pursue college basketball after the ninth grade.
"I decided after ninth grade that basketball was my best sport, and that I wanted to pursue a future in it" Fantaskey said.
"Tyler is a kid who went through a major growth spurt late in junior high, from being a small kid to his height of 6-2," said Warren boys basketball coach Jeff Berdine. "He really had to grow into his body and all threw high school he was probably skinnier than what he would have liked. He has really adjusted to how physically strong you have to be to compete at that level. I get a chance to see him during the summer, and he really has grown physically. He has gotten the strength he needs to compete at that level.
He has put the work in in the weight room, and I really see the physical strength, and you knew he wanted to play college basketball. He put the time in and dedicated himself to give himself the opportunity to play and in college basketball. He was serious about it."
Fantaskey started playing AAU basketball with a Jamestown team, and traveled to several different tournaments, facing top-notch competition in an effort to improve his game. He routinely worked out with his younger brother, Collin, now a junior on Warren's high school hoops team. These workouts were beneficial to Tyler as well as Collin, who figures to be an important player for the Dragons this year, said Tyler.
After scoring 224 points as a high school senior and 426 in high school, Tyler had a decision to make. He had to decide on a school that would meet his academic plans and let him play basketball. Pitt-Bradford was an easy choice.
"The Pitt-Bradford coach (now former coach) showed the most interest in me out of high school," Fantaskey said. "Also, the school has a strong Environmental Studies program, which was my intended major."
Fantaskey has since added a double major. He is now majoring in Petroleum Technology as well as Environmental Studies. While having a double major will require more work for Fantaskey, he believes it will be worth it in the future.
Coach Moore sees a bright future.
"I think Tyler can become a double-digit scorer for us" Moore said. "He is an extremely hard worker and we think he will really improve going forward."
Fantaskey envisions a similarly optimistic future for the Panthers; he had two 3-pointers for in a loss to Penn State Behrend on Wednesday.
"Our outlook on this season is promising after starting out with a 3-1 record," Fantaskey said. "We return five of our top seven players from last year, so we have an experienced team. Our goal is an AMCC championship and to make the Division III National Tournament."
When asked about his personal goals, Fantaskey said, "I hope to shoot over 45 percent from 3-point range on the year again. Being one of the team leaders for rebounding is also important. However, my number one goal is doing anything I can to help the team win as many games as possible."
With the type of attitude and drive Tyler Fantaskey has shown, I know I don't doubt him.