Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Fordham athletic director Frank McLaughlin wants star point guard Jio Fontan to return to school, but Fontan and his family say he will never play for Fordham again.
McLaughlin has repeatedly ignored interview requests from the media (myself included), but he did tell a Fontan confidant that the school will not release the young man from his Letter of Intent because it wants him to be a part of the program’s future.
“We had a very good conversation. [McLaughlin] was kind enough to give me a call back,” said Todd Washington, a senior adviser to the President of the Puerto Rico Basketball Association who is advising the Fontans in the matter. “They just voiced how much they care about Jio and that Jio’s the cornerstone of their program. They have no hard feelings. They know what Jio’s position is but that they’re hoping that Jio comes back.”
He added: “The impression that I got is that Fordham is just not going to release Jio under any circumstances.”
Jorge Fontan, Jio’s father, previously told me his son will never play for Fordham again.
“If they don’t grant us a release we’re going to leave regardless,” Jorge said. “He is going to leave.”
Fontan, a 19-year-old freshman point guard out of St. Anthony in Jersey City, led the Rams in scoring (15.3 points per game), assists (4.7) and steals (33) while adding 2.7 rebounds per game. He was named to the Atlantic-10 All-Rookie team. Fordham finished 3-25, 1-15 in the A-10.
McLaughlin apparently believes it is constructive to refuse to grant Fontan his release, even though three other Fordham players have been released. McLaughlin said he would be open to yet another meeting with Jorge and Jio, but the Fontans are not interested.
“They [school officials] love the kid. They’re trying to make a lot of changes to the program but Jio and Jorge’s positon is unchanged,” Washington said. “Jorge’s position is, ‘We’re not going back there.'”
Washington added that Fordham was trying to schedule some non-conference games at the Izod Center, perhaps involving games against Big East teams with other St. Anthony players, as an indication that they are trying to grow the program.
“He did say that they’re working on it,” Washington said. “Since Seton Hall has gone to the Prudential Center, that the Meadowlands is looking for basketball games. That Fordham is at a disadvantage because of their lack of facilities, but that they’re trying to do the best job that they can and they’re focused on basketball.”
Washington said he and Jorge also spoke to an NCAA official, who gave them additional bad news about the release.
“Fordham does not have an obligation to release Jio, but we think it would be the right thing for them to do,” Washington said. “Nine out of 10 times if the kid doesn’t want to be there, the school releases him. But this is an extreme situation.”
Fontan could choose to spend next year in Puerto Rico training with the National team and taking classes, or he could opt to attend a junior college, such as the College of Southern Idaho. JUCOs are generally less expensive than four-year schools, something that is more appealing to the Fontans.
“I haven’t really decided,” Jio said. “I haven’t really thought too much of what I’m going to do. I realize the NCAA rules so I have to follow those, of course.”
Fontan said he has been offered chances to play professionally in the Caribbean, but that he wants to continue his schooling.
“I want to go back to school and I want to play,” he said. “College basketball has been a dream of mine. I want to go out there and win games and play in the Big Dance, so that’s what I’m looking forward to right now. My next step, I’m not 100 percent.”
As for the immediate future, Fontan is enjoying time in Puerto Rico training with the U19 National Team for the upcoming World Championship in New Zealand. Rutgers guard Mike Rosario, who played with Rutgers on a trip to the Canary Islands that saw the Scarlet Knights go 4-0, will also play for Puerto Rico. Both Fontan and Rosario are of Puerto Rican heritage.
“Mike comes down Tuesday and then I think we leave for France five days after he gets here. Then we go to France for a week or two and then we come back to Puerto Rico and recuperate and then we get ready for the Big Dance in New Zealand,” Jio said.
Two other former St. Anthony players, Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas) and Dominic Cheek (Villanova), have been asked to try out for the U.S. team.
“I haven’t played against Tyshawn or Cheek in a minute so it’s going to be real fun,” Jio said. “I want to beat the United States. I definitely want to get out there and try to put a little beating on them. I love Tyshawn to death but I told him the other day I’m ready to bring it to him and ready to bring the gold medal back here to Puerto Rico.”
All four St. Anthony players are subjects of the upcoming documentary “The Street Stops Here,” which features legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley and the undefeated national championship team of 2007-8.
Jio said he is working to get a premiere of the movie shown in his new home.
“We’re trying to get the movie premiere of ‘The Street Stops Here’ in Puerto Rico for the kids to see,” he said. “It will be real big for those guys to see two guys represent Puerto Rico and the stuff they went through and hopefully be a motivator for a lot of the young guys here.”
(Photos courtesy Fordham, Rutgers, Hall of Fame)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.