Late in the first half of UNC’s ACC Tournament Quarterfinal game against Miami, Hurricanes guard D.J. Vasiljevic drives the lane and lays the ball off the backboard. Whistles sound as the ball drops through the hoop.
“Foul on Isaiah Hicks, his first,” a baritone voice announces over the arena PA system. “Team’s ninth. Vasiljevic to the line…”
Then, the voice draws out a long W sound, building it to a crescendo, like Michael Buffer introducing a main event.
“One shot,” the voice finishes.
The ACC is making its debut at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center this week, and the league has borrowed entertainment and on-court hosts from the arena’s primary residents, the Brooklyn Nets.
While the PA announcing over the first three days of the tournament has had NBA flair, the announcer is not, in fact, the arena voice of the Nets.
He’s Mark Fratto, former sports information director for the Maryland Terrapins.
Fratto has done PA announcing for several NBA D-League teams in the Big Apple and fills in at Madison Square Garden for the Knicks and WNBA Liberty. So it’s only natural that he’d bring a pro sound to the college tournament.
In addition to the little pop he adds to and-one free throws, Fratto displays other professional game quirks, like referring to teams as being “over the limit” on fouls, instead of “in the bonus.”
There’s a much longer, deeper reason for the NBA roots in Fratto’s mic work, however.
Growing up, Fratto played baseball and basketball, continuing his play on the diamond into high school. His basketball career hit a wall, however.
“I couldn’t go to my left,” Fratto admitted.
So, to stay involved with the game, he volunteered to do P.A. duties for his high school team’s home games.
“A lot of my baseball teammates were also on the basketball team,” he said. “And when they found out I was going to announce them, they all said, ‘Do it like Ray Clay!’”
Clay was the well-known P.A. announcer for the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan’s six championship runs. His team introductions, “And now … the starting lineup … for YOUR Chicago Bulls!” and “from North … CAROLINA … at guard … 6’6” … MICHael JORdan!” were emulated as much as Jordan’s tongue waggling dribble drives.
Fratto was an immediate hit and discovered he loved doing P.A. work. He continued it throughout college at SUNY Geneseo and when he went to Maryland as an unpaid graduate assistant in the sports information office. Eventually, Fratto was put on staff and became the assistant to the basketball team’s S.I.D.
Following Maryland’s 2002 national title season, Fratto’s boss left. “And Gary Williams, the Hall of Fame coach of the national champions, said, ‘We don’t need to hire anyone. Give the kid a chance.’”
While Terrapins basketball occupied the bulk of his time, Fratto still manned the mic for Maryland sporting events whenever he could.
“I remember doing the ACC field hockey tournament, when Maryland hosted it in 2000,” he said. “The people from Maryland told me, ‘Now, this is supposed to be a neutral site. So you can’t do it like you usually do. You can’t show favoritism.’ But I could still show excitement for both sides equally. And that’s what I did.”
That’s what Fratto has done this week, at the ACC basketball tourney. “I’m just having fun,” he said. “Especially for the games early in the week, where the arena isn’t full yet, you’ve got to have someone who can add a little excitement and energy to things.”
Fratto has plenty on his plate. After leaving Maryland, he worked for 10 years at St. John’s, which got Big Apple sports fans used to hearing his voice. Since leaving St. John’s, he runs the Linacre Media company, doing TV production, public relations and social/digital media consulting work around the area.
He’s also never far from a microphone. Fratto is the longtime voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, and he’ll work his ninth Final Four at the end of the month, as part of the NCAA Media Coordination staff. Fratto is one of the moderators for coach and player press conferences.
And then there’s boxing.
Fratto is actually finished with his ACC duties for the week. After three days in Brooklyn, he’s headed to Verona, New York’s Turning Stone Casino to serve as ring announcer for the undercard of HBO’s Boxing After Dark. He was using the 20 minutes between ACC Tournament games to prepare his notes for the in-ring intros.
“I’ll announce the weigh-ins on Friday and then do the introductions for all the fights up until the last two. Then Michael Buffer takes over for the main events,” he said.
Even though boxing will pull him away from the ACC Tournament, Fratto will keep his eye—and ear—on the action at Barclay’s.
“I’ve always loved ACC basketball, since I was a kid,” he said, “and I stayed close throughout my career. This is a dream for me, and a great reunion with so many friends that felt like family from my days in the league.”