by Tom Hoffarth
L.A. Daily News
Jan. 22, 2010
reprinted with permission of the author
For someone whose life-long success in sports involved blazing a new trail and becoming something of a role model, Dain Blanton already had the right mindset when he decided it was time a few years ago to segue from beach volleyball star to sportscaster.
The path might not be easy. But the journey would be worth the effort.
In his first season as a full-time sideline reporter on Prime Ticket's home-and-road coverage of the Clippers, Blanton has immersed himself in the NBA culture and is emerging as a bright prospect in the sports broadcasting field.
Now it's just a matter of what advice he takes with him to get to the next level.
"I am getting feedback all the time, but this is a strange medium for me," said the 38-year-old Pepperdine graduate with a degree in public relations. "Sports are so objective. The scoreboard tells you the truth. Broadcasting is very subjective, and everyone has an opinion so you have to be careful to whose opinion you're taking.
"Even a producer or director may give you some feedback after a game, but it's as they're rushing off to leave after a game and it might not be very constructive. I try to keep an open mind and listen to people who I trust will tell me things like, 'you tilted your head there,' or 'you said that word 10 times in three minutes.'
"It's a different world for me. I'm learning every day about how to get information, how to present it, when to present it. It's learning in the fast lane."
Lou Riggs, the Santa Monica College instructor and sports casting training expert around town, is definitely one of Blanton's reliable sounding boards.
"I told him at the start that he had everything it takes to be a good broadcaster, especially TV," said Riggs. "He's a good looking guy, well spoken, intelligent, listens extremely well, understands the importance of strong preparation and controlling an interview situation. I also told him he needed to be more assertive -- without being a jerk. He's getting a lot of opportunities because he works hard, is reliable and will always put in a top effort. He has many more horizons than even where he is today. A lot of talent with much potential."
Tom Feuer, the executive producer of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket and a big beach volleyball supporter, was one of the first people who Blanton approached about five years ago when he was considering a career outside the pro beach circuit.
Blanton, by that time, had already established himself as a two-time Olympic beach player, having won the gold medal for the U.S. at the 2000 Games in Sydney with partner Eric Fonoimoana and returning with Jeff Nygaard for the 2004 Games in Athens.
Blanton was the first African-American male to win a major beach volleyball event - the 1997 Hermosa Beach Open. The four-year letterman as an outside hitter at Pepperdine (and on the '92 national championship team) via Laguna Beach High was already planning for the future after 11 victories on the AVP Tour.
Feuer eventually put him on the Prime Ticket high school football package as a sideline reporter. Blanton's willingness to learn the job on the fly got him spots doing sideline for USC and UCLA games.
There came a day during the 2007-08 season, when the Clippers had a home game against Boston, and an assignment switch called for someone to do courtside reporting at the last minute. Blanton answered the call, and he's been essentially part of the Clippers' broadcast team since the start of this season, as well as doing analysis on volleyball coverage for the network during the NBA's offseason.
"Dain has come a long way in a short time," said Feuer. "In many respects, sideline reporting is the most difficult job on-air. That said, Dain's personality, his work ethic and his desire to succeed has lead to success.
"I really felt this summer was a key turning point in Dain's development. I noticed he had become much more insightful in his volleyball commentary as an analyst. We coached him to have the same level of comfort when working stories and sideline for the Clippers. He was an All-State high school basketball player so he has a good fundamental knowledge of that game as well as volleyball. I also think he has the respect of the players because he has accomplished in his career something that every athlete strives for - an Olympic gold medal."
Working with Jim Watson on international volleyball broadcasts for the new NBC Universal network, Blanton is encouraged by the steps he's taken to improve his game.
"Dain is living proof that not all of us are caught up in the age of entitlement and immediate gratification," Watson said. "He took an opportunity and made it his own with the same diligence and determination that helped him win an Olympic gold medal."
Blanton, who last played a full year on the AVP Tour in 2008, says he has complete focus on broadcasting and could see himself in the role of studio host or anchor someday.
"The bottom line is that people are looking for motivation and role models," said Blanton, whose father died when he was 6. "I had that in my older brothers (Kurt and Everett) and my mom (Jewell). I learned from them, kept my grades up. They were my biggest inspirations.
"For me, watching sports today is all about who inspires me, who's classy in the way they go about their business, and who has fun doing it. It's that old-school mentality, learning who's in and who isn't.
"I've always loved playing basketball, and it's my favorite sport to watch. So maybe the Clippers are under the radar somewhat, they aren't the Lakers in terms of media exposure, but this is the NBA in the nation's No. 2 media market. So that's pressure enough to drive me."