Tag Archives: Bob Cantu

Waxing Seniority: Jio Fontan

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

Jacob Freedman is a writer for the Daily Trojan, Galen Central, Neon Tommy, and other USC publications.

There won’t be a Hollywood ending for Jio Fontan. His college career will not wrap up with a celebration on the court. He won’t be hearing his name called by David Stern at the NBA Draft this June.

Instead, his final game at the Galen Center has served as a metaphor for Fontan’s three years as the Trojans point guard on the floor, and emotional leader off of it.

Senior Day couldn’t have started better for the Trojans that Saturday. The Trojans raced out to a 28-9 lead last Saturday against the Arizona State Sun Devils, with Fontan leading USC’s fast-paced, dunk-fueled offense. It was an exciting start, just as Fontan’s tenure at USC was after he led Trojans to the NCAA Tournament in his debut season at USC despite missing the first ten games due to transfer rules.

The Trojans lost in the opening round of the tourney to VCU (which ended up making a run to the Final Four), but Fontan had rekindled his love for basketball in the southern California sun. The ugly drama was finally gone. His nightmare at Fordham, which refused to release Fontan from the program after he averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 assists as a freshman and where he played five games in 2009-10 as a sophomore, was finally over.

From a narrow loss at third-ranked Kansas in his USC debut to a late February win over a Top Ten Arizona squad that propelled the Trojans to an at-large bid, that 2010-11 season was the unconventional honeymoon for Fontan and his new group.

Flash back to Senior Day. Arizona State fought back, but USC still led 41-28 with around 13 minutes to go. Fontan had been guarding ASU’s best player in Jahii Carson, and had already racked up four fouls against the aggressive freshman point guard. Fontan had also sat out nearly eight minutes in the first half with two fouls, and was struggling offensively with seven points and just two assists. But like it had been all season; there was no other option at point guard. Fontan led the team with 33 minutes per game. Down the stretch, it was going to be Jio or bust.

“He’s very competitive at practice and in the games,” USC interim head coach Bob Cantu said. “Guys feed off that and see he really wants to win. Not just winning the game, but winning each possession and each increment on the game.”

Coming out of a dead-ball substitution, Fontan looked to shoot before dishing the ball to Omar Oraby. Oraby’s jumper went awry, but that’s not wat mattered. As the shot clanked off iron, the predominant sound in the Galen Center was a sharp thud as Fontan fell backwards onto the court following his pass. Not good. Not good at all

Fontan got up hobbling, clutching his right wrist tightly and seething to avoid crying out in pain. He got the ball on USC’s next possession, but bent over in agony before Cantu called a timeout and subbed in freshman Chass Bryan for Fontan. No question about it, Fontan was hurt. Again.

Flash back to spring 2011. The Trojans lost three program contributors- Marcus Simmons, Donte Smith and Alex Stepheson- to graduation and lost arguably their best player, Nikola Vucevic, to the pros after the Serbian star declared for the NBA Draft on March 25. Backup guard Bryce Jones had also left the program in January.

With all of that, a repeat run to the tourney was less than a sure thing. But at least then-USC head coach Kevin O’Neill had his trusted point guard at his side. Both coach and point guard believed they could carry this team back to the Big Dance. And then, Brazil.

Fontan had 57 points in two games during USC’s August trip to the South American nation, where the Trojans played against mid-level Brazilian pro squads. But in the third, Fontan was hit on a drive and landed awkwardly. It turned out to be a torn ACL that required surgery. His season was done before it even began. As was USC’s, which Fontan would have to watch unfold from the bench.

Thus began the 2011-12 season as we remember it. Most choose to forget. Fontan’s injury wasn’t the first (Power forward Curtis Washington was declared out of the year the week before Brazil with a shoulder injury), nor would it be the last. Down went center Dewayne Dedmon, down went forward Aaron Fuller, and down went the Trojans’ record. USC finished the season with six wins and 26 losses, the most losses in program history.

The losing was hard enough for Fontan. Worse was having to watch his teammates lose their passion and suffer through loss after loss.

“Just keep fighting,” Fontan said on what he told his teammates. “When you’re going from town to town, state to state, taking losses and some pretty bad ones, you could kind of get lost in what’s the game’s about.” A calm and calculated speaker, Fontan switches the tone from sullen to positive without missing a beat. “It’s about having fun and going out there and trying to make your mark every time you step on the court and compete as much as possible. You don’t want that losing mentality to become the norm for you.”

The season to forget ended with a 17-point loss to UCLA in the first round of the conference tournament. For most of the team, that meant the offseason. For Fontan, it meant the preseason had begun.

“He stayed motivated and saw the big picture, and that’s not easy to do,” Cantu said. “I give him a lot of credit.”

Now 31 games into his final season, Fontan still doesn’t discount the impact of that agonizing tear nearly 19 months ago.

“I have my days where I’m more sore than others, but for the most part I’m good. There’s days where I can feel great and can explode like I’ve always been able to, I just have to learn to adjust and come in strong.”

Now check back in to last Saturday. After subbing out, Fontan has made a quick detour to the locker room before returning with a bag of ice for his right wrist. It turns out he sprained it, but he doesn’t know that yet. Not that it would matter if he did. Four minutes and 33 seconds of game time after hobbling off, Fontan has his right hand wrapped and ready to go.  The Trojans are 6-5 under Cantu at this juncture, and Fontan isn’t letting a sixth loss slide by.

“It’s been tougher for me personally, just dealing with having a year off basketball having to not only be a leader, but getting things flowing for my team to win,” Fontan said before the game. “Luckily I’ve been able to do so during this later stretch.”

Fontan’s senior year has already been rocky. After starting 7-10, USC fired O’Neill, and impacting Fontan on more than one level.

With Fontan living almost 3,000 miles away from his family in New Jersey, O’Neill became Jio’s west-coast father figure. Fontan was just 20 when he arrived to USC. Now he is 23, and thanks to O’Neill’s tutelage, miles more mature and now able to tackle the challenges of life after college basketball.

“He told me to be a professional and have fun on and off the court,” Fontan said about O’Neill’s parting advice to him. Fontan’s one constant of his USC career was gone, and Cantu became Fontan’s fourth coach of his college career.

And just like his roller-coaster senior year, this game would not have the picturesque finish Fontan might have wished for.

Although he left because of injury, Fontan had exited the game with four fouls. Less than two minutes after coming back in, he earned his fifth after elbowing Carson while dribbling the ball up the court. Fontan was protecting his injured wrist, but a swing was a swing. The referees called it a flagrant foul, and Fontan’s day was finished.

Fontan defended himself in the post-game press conference, but his ultimate conclusion was that the referees “made the right call”. The hothead freshman Jio might have rued the call, but this tenured senior knows when to pick his battles.

Like the end of the game once he fouled out, Fontan can’t control how this season will turn out. If J.T. Terrell isn’t finding his shot, if Eric Wise isn’t making paths in the paint and if Dedmon and Omar Oraby aren’t stopping opponents in the post, then there is only so much Fontan can do. For the fierce leader to win, he must rely on the skills of others.

As Fontan gazed from the sidelines, the Trojans withstood a last-second heave by Arizona State to win 57-56. Fontan finished with seven points, two rebounds, and an assist. In his 32nd and final game at the Galen Center, Fontan’s 22 minutes were his fewest total ever on the Trojans’ home court.  In a career deterred by injuries, that final stat seems to make harmonic sense.

No matter. The Trojans won. The metaphor ends here. Now, it’s time for Fontan to wrap up his story at USC. He’s already planning the next chapter of his life.

Fontan has Puerto Rican roots, and was drafted 8th overall by Atléticos de San Germán in January’s Puerto Rican Basketball League Draft. He is on track to graduate, and says he’s likely to explore playing in Puerto Rico once USC’s season is over.

Which is not quite yet. The Trojans enter the Pac-12 tournament as the seven-seed and will face tenth-seeded Utah Wednesday night.

Fontan is still dealing with pain from his wrist, but there’s no chance he won’t be on the court for the rest of USC’s games. His time in Tinseltown is over, but perhaps what happens in Vegas will result in an extra page or two to Fontan’s USC chapter.


Not So Pac-12 Awards: Greatest Spectacle

The season itself is a spectacle, full of unforeseen incidents, shocking results, and jaw droppers. Story lines unfold before us quicker than grandma with a cheetah on her back and can flush away what we knew yesterday like a flash flood.

Sometimes its like a car wreck where we can’t help but watch. Other times it’s a heartwarming tale, something that moves us to re-admit that we cry during Rudy. It can be controversy, rivalry, history, or a single moment that changes the course of a season.

The great spectacles of 2012-13:

The UCLA Situation


From the outset of this season, Ben Howland and company were going to be watched with a keen and expectant eye. Collectively we knew his program was reeling. But he had garnered the second best recruiting class in the nation including the best high schooler in the country, Shabazz Muhammad. So when they were taken to overtime by UC-Irvine and then lost to Cal Poly, far greater than grumblings bubbled about Howland’s job. In fact, there were reports that he’d be dismissed mid-season. So yeah, when the most successful program in the sports history is talking about firing their HC, it’s a spectacle. And a pecuiliar one when that coach regroups to win the outright conference title. Which begs the question: Now what? We’ll see as this story will continue to be one of the bigger tales across the nation.

To the Monitors


Pac-12 opening night. The undefeated Arizona Wildcats. The upstart Colorado Buffaloes. Arizona would win in overtime which is about the start of this story. A tale that’s still being cited as these two are poised to perhaps meet again in the Pac-12 Quarters. Alas, following Chen’s banked three, the monitors were visited and the decision made that the senior Buffalo didn’t get his game-winner off. And, like I said previously, the Wildcats won in overtime.

One Game, Two Rankings

Arsalan Kazemi, Larry Drew II

On Saturday, January 19, 2013, the #24 UCLA Bruins Hosted the #21 Oregon Ducks in Pauley Pavilion. Oregon would win the game but that’s not the news. What’s news is that this was the first contest featuring ranked Pac-12 opponents since March 2009. That’s a damn long time. And we still haven’t had another since that mid-January showdown. But Arizona and UCLA could collide in a colossal Pac-12 semi-final featuring #21 v #18. Whoa.

KO, KO’d. You, Cantu


Despite a 2-2 conference mark and a drubbing of Utah, the sun rose on Monday and Kevin O’Neill was relieved of his duties as USC’s head coach. Long time assistant, Bob Cantu, was appointed the interim man and did an admirable job. Leading the Trojans to a seventh place finish. But the real conversation centers around what they’ll do following the season. The gig has been linked to some big names and some familiar names. Whatever the case, I think Pat Haden has the opportunity to make a big splash.




Not So Pac-12 Awards: Greatest Spectacle

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year: A VOTE!

This may be the toughest of the awards to choose. I feel like so much of this pick gets set upon a team’s expectations which is so dramatically far from fair. A coach can do a very good job with a very bad team that just wasn’t very good (LoRo this year is a pretty decent example of that).

When I’m making a pick like COY, I like to look at the team’s general body of work and ask questions like: Did they get better? Did they win at home? Did they eek out a couple they maybe shouldn’t have? Did they lose games they shouldn’t? How did they respond to adversity? How much would I want to have a beer with this guy? Important stuff.

NOTE: I think image searching/trolling for pictures of Pac-12 coaches is in my top 17 things to do in life.

The candidates and then the field:

Dana Altman, Oregon


Certainly when subscribing to the expectations-reality model, this guy is the guy. Picked to finish seventh, they’re now in the driver’s seat to finish first. That’s a big gap. But maybe he just straight up had that good of a team. Whatever. Point is, Dana has lead a group to sound play since November and done a masterful job in ensuring his team managed to weather the injury storm to Dominic Artis.

Ben Howland, UCLA


I think a lot of people are going to hate seeing his name on the COY list (I see you BruinsNation) but Ben’s group has rebounded moderately well from what was shaping up to be disaster of a distracted year: Josh Smith’s transfer, Shabazz’s eligibility, Shabazz’s back pack, Shabazz’s pink eye, UC-Irvine. So as this things piled up and the buzz around his job security came to a head, this team had every excuse to quit. Throw in the towel and just get to March. Well they haven’t quite done that and while there have been some ups and downs, Howland has done a fair job this season.

Bob Cantu, USC


Just as I commend Howland for not quite letting his team quit, so to must we comment the interim guy across town. Cantu took over a 2-2 squad from a coach calling his team “castoffs” and “rejects,” playing with a “chip on their shoulder.” I suppose the final justification comes in the fact KO was castoff himself which could easily could have become a quitting point. It didn’t Together – with his team – they became a whole new version of rejects (as I assume Cantu soon will be dismissed as interim HC) to battle for a top six finish. They beat UCLA in Westwood and soundly beat the Wildcats, letting everyone know, so long as you don’t quit, you Cantu!

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

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The Sun Devils’ year may be coming to a tough close but there was nothing disappointing about the season the Herbivores pieced together. They out did any and all expectations and while I’ve previously stated I’m not a fan of the expectations-reality model of choosing a COY, in this case I think it’s fair. He added just one new component in Jahii Carson (Evan Gordon essentials fills a similar role to Trent Lockett) and then got the absolute most from 2011-12 underwhelming returners Jonathan Gilling, Carrick Felix, and Jordan Bachynski. Improvement is part of a coaches job and YoY the Devils did that.

The Field


Tad Boyle, Mike Montgomery


Pac-12 Coach of the Year

  • The Field (48%, 11 Votes)
  • Dana Altman (35%, 8 Votes)
  • Bob Cantu (9%, 2 Votes)
  • Ben Howland (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Herb Sendek (4%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 23

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For Comparison’s Sake: Nothing

A comparative analysis is a problem solving methodology used to minimize subjectivity and maximize objectivity. Exhibit A vs. Exhibit B. In the instance I was trying to use it last night – a circumstance in which I was trying to find some silver lining, some reason that it was OK for Arizona to have lost to the conference’s seventh place team by allowing them to shoot greater than 60% afield.

I present to you, Exhibit Michigan.

Wow losing to Penn State is bad and while it isn’t quite TCU, it sure ain’t good. And so you see you what I did there? In Arizona losing, I rationalized it – analyzed it comparatively, if you will – to other high major upsets. As if somehow Michigan’s loss from earlier in the night could vindicate the Wildcats.

Well that lasted less than a minute (s/o to my first) and I was brought back to thinking, picking, ignoring, lamenting, and generally agonizing over USC’s victory. On my mind was:

  • 89 points – Most points yielded this season by Arizona
  • -9 – Rebounding margin
  • 61.1% – USC’s shooting percentage, the highest of all-time
  • Cab or Ale – Wasn’t sure if it’d be Red Wine or Beer
  • 1.17 – Trojan points per possession

Over and over again I looked at the box score but couldn’t find much to make the confusion go away. For comparison’s sake, I was lost, and remain lost.

But the fact of the matter is, until that group of men and women sit inside a hotel conference room and pick a handful of teams to dance, comparison does no good. Arizona has got to do Arizona and they haven’t done that. Why has Sean Miller had to discuss defensive effort in his past umpteen pressers? Themes outside of winning are bad and, what’s worse, effort is a completely controllable component of one’s game.

Effort, in fact, has been a central cog to what we’ve seen Arizona face as the Pac-12’s most hunted team since the season began. And we knew that would be the case. They arrived as the hyped team and then won 14 straight, rising to third in the nation, and everyone wants a piece of that. It’s no surprise that teams show up with their best effort to play Arizona.

I’m just wondering when will Arizona show up with theirs?

Week 7 Pac-12 Hoops Preview

On Tuesday, President Obama addressed the Nation in his annual State of the Union. He touched on the pertinent subjects surrounding the goings on of our country and how he, as our elected leader, intends on solving or improving them.

But at it’s crux, at the core of what our President implored congress and this nation to do, was to grow a “rising and thriving middle class.” And then he looked right into the camera and subsequently the souls of Bob Cantu, Herb Sendek, Tad Boyle, Johnny Dawkins, Lorenzo Romar, and Mike Montgomery. After all, these are the heads of the middle-class as we know it. For therein lies five teams log jammed between three 8-3 squads and three 2-9 squads.

Yes, here is the middle class with four weeks remaining that will indeed have its opportunity to rise and thrive, grow and taste success beyond a brief weekend in Vegas. Anyone can afford that. Because no one wants to leave Vegas a complete loser.

The weekend that will be and some additional worthy reads:

**Please note: The above is the first ever reference of Barack Obama and the Pac-12 without mention of Craig Robinson. I’ll take your applauds at the conclusion of the performance.

GotW: Absolutely it’s the game I’m attending. I wouldn’t catch a flight to the haunted DIA or think really hard but not do anything about shelling out $25 more for additional leg room because I’m 6’5″ or troll message boards if I was traveling to OSU-WSU, would I? Never. So yeah, the GotW is Arizona’s visit to Colorado and my attendance. And while my attendance is generally a recipe for GotW, this game has all the ingredients to be great. First of all, Arizona is pissed. Or at least should be. They got beat soundly by Cal and allowed them to shoot 60%. That’s bad and the Cats would appear to have something to prove (see below). On the other bench is Tad Boyle and his replay beliefs. This man thinks replay should be gone and if he’d had his way in 2012 – or even these convictions back then – his team would have one additional win. Sorry I’m not sorry. Ask any Buffalo about it, they’re just now moving past as they’ve won five of six and looking for that revenge. Will they get it? Time will tell. Going to get loud in the Keg.

Game to Avoid: Last week it was a pair of 2-7 teams and this week it’s a pair of 2-9 teams. Oregon State’s visit to Pullman comes with about as much hoopla as my second beer on a Friday night: It has to happen to get on to better things. I have a built in excuse to miss this one (flying to Denver), what’s yours?

Something to Prove: The Arizona Wildcats dip into hostile waters as the highest ranked team in the conference and as (per KenPom) the favorites. But something doesn’t feel right. They dropped the ball against Cal (already mentioned) and, amongst all Top-10 teams, have taken the most heat as an underserving team. The questioning of Arizona has some merits but at the end of the day, they’re 20-3 against the 10th toughest schedule in the nation. But such a record against such competition suggests there might be another level. Something bigger than losses to Cal and squeaking through much of their Pac-12 season. But here they are now. This trip to Colorado can be a message sending game in which Arizona reasserts itself in the face of adversity as the conference’s top team. Time to prove.

Something to Lose: Arizona State faces a tough roady as Utah is very capable of holding holding court (these two went to OT in Tempe) and Colorado is a very good team, particularly on their home floor. The Herbivores pieced together a phenomenal first half but a handful of road hiccups this week could really set them onto the wrong foot heading down the four week stretch to Vegas. The logjam of teams nipping at ASU’s heels (CU, Stan, Cal, USC) is playing some formidable ball and could quickly make moves up the standings, especially if ASU stumbles this weekend.

The YouTuber: I’m just noting here that Stanford has the lowest field goal percentage in the conference…