Celebrating USC Senior Jio FontanPosted by AMurawa on March 2nd, 2013
Today as USC hosts Arizona State in its final home game of the regular season, the Trojans will say goodbye to five seniors, all of them transfers from other Division I institutions, including Eric Wise, Aaron Fuller, James Blasczyk, Renaldo Woolridge and their senior captain Jio Fontan. As these five get ready to celebrate their Senior Day, we’ll take a look at the college career of the best of the bunch, the senior point guard from Paterson, New Jersey.
As a high school student, Jio Fontan got awfully used to winning. As a senior at fabled St. Anthony High School under Hall of Fame head coach Bob Hurley, Fontan and teammates like Mike Rosario, Tray Woodall and Tyshawn Taylor swept to a 32-0 record and a national #1 ranking. While his more celebrated teammates got attention from national powerhouses, Fontan’s attention was more muted and he chose a local school, Fordham, at which to matriculate. In his first season there, though, the Rams went 3-25. After flirting with a transfer immediately following the season, Fontan decided to stick it out at Fordham, aided by the school’s reluctance to grant him his release to transfer. But after five games (and four more losses), he cut bait just ahead of head coach Dereck Whittenburg and opted to head west, like so many before him, in search of greener pastures.
And like those before him, his search met with plenty of hardship. After sitting out a little more than year, Fontan gained his eligibility at USC at the end of the fall semester in 2010, joining a team that had lost four times against middling competition in its first 10 games. Right off the bat, he stepped into the starting lineup for Kevin O’Neill and led his team on the road against a pair of top-20 teams. Against Kansas in his Trojans debut, he was solid in keeping his team right in the game until the final seconds before losing by two. Then a couple days later, he provided a big spark in leading his team to a one-point win at Tennessee. Later, another win over #10 Arizona (led by Derrick Williams) in which Fontan went for 21 points likely put the Trojans over the top and squeaked them into the NCAA Tournament, where they went on to turn in a stinker against (future Final Four team) Virginia Commonwealth in the inaugural First Four. Still, the season was definite progress for the Trojans and with Fontan returning from a season in which he averaged 10 points and four assists per game, the future looked bright for O’Neill’s program.
And then, the basketball gods got cruel. In the summer of 2011 on a team trip to Brazil, Fontan tore his ACL and had to watch the entirety of a painful 6-26 season from the bench while rehabilitating his knee. But as the months wore on and the injury receded into the past, Fontan had something to work toward — one last season with a completely remade roster chock full of offensive weapons. But when the 2012-13 season tipped off, it quickly became apparent that, despite all his hard work, he wasn’t yet back to full strength. Wearing a knee brace that looked something like a medieval torture device, Fontan lacked the explosion and quickness that had made him such a potent offensive force before. And as Fontan put up enough bricks to build a house in the non-conference schedule (he missed 81 of his 115 shots and shot a weak 34.3% eFG over that stretch), the losses piled up for a Trojans team that had hoped to spring a big turnaround. And when that 5-8 non-conference schedule was capped by a 2-2 start to conference play, O’Neill, Fontan’s mentor, was abruptly canned.
Since that time, Fontan has bounced back somewhat, showing toughness and grit in eking every last bit of production he can out of his still-not-right knee. He’s had some spectacular performances (25 points on 14 shots in an overtime loss at Arizona State) and some forgettable ones (four points on 11 shots with a side of five turnovers in a blowout home loss to UCLA), but Fontan has kept competing, dragging that leg and its brace wherever it needs to go.
No, not much has gone right for Fontan in his college career. He’s 30-55 in the games he has played in, he’s burned through a couple of head coaches at a couple of different stops, and he’s suffered a brutal knee injury – certainly none of that approaches what he envisioned when he signed his letter of intent. But that’s just the way college basketball careers – and lives – sometimes go. Not everything can turn out as planned and bad luck sometimes hits people for no apparent reason. But, you keep chugging along, rebounding from setbacks and working your tail off, and good things can sometimes happen. For Fontan, among those good things will be a college degree in Communications and a work ethic and maturity that all the trials and tribulations he’s faced in his career have helped build.