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.
One of Jared Grasso’s first orders of business after taking over as the interim basketball coach at Fordham University Thursday was to meet with disgruntled point guard Jio Fontan.
Grasso, 29, met with Fontan for about an hour Friday afternoon to discuss his future and hopes the former St. Anthony star returns to practice Friday afternoon. The team faces Bowling Green Saturday at Rose Hill Gym in Grasso’s first game since replacing the fired Dereck Whittenburg.
“I had a good talk with him this [Friday] afternoon. I told him how I felt about him,” Grasso said of Fontan in his first interview since taking over.
“I told him I’d love to have him here and he’s going to have to make a decision for himself.”
Fontan, a sophomore who led the team as a freshman in scoring (15.3 ppg) and assists (132), this week declared that he was leaving the team and would depart the school after this semester. If he transfers, he wouldn’t be eligible to play at another Division 1 school utnil Dec. 2010.
Jorge Fontan, Jio’s father, had no comment and said he needed to meet with his son. Jorge and Grasso also spoke by phone Friday.
As for taking over Fordham (1-4) in his first head coaching job, Grasso said he wants the kids to play hard and have fun.
“I feel confident that I can get the guys playing hard and competing,” Grasso said. “Whatever that means in wins and losses I don’t know. We’re still a really young team. We have six freshmen and two sophomores.
“My goal is I want to be the hardest playing team in the Atlantic 10 and the hardest playing team in the country.”
Grasso’s long-term future at Fordham is uncertain.
Several sources close to the program said athletic director Frank McLaughlin would likely be forced into retirement after this year.
“How can he stay?” one source asked. “You know who the last two coaches in basketball were. Bob Hill and Dereck Whittenburg didn’t end so well.”
If Fordham hires a new AD, he could opt to bring in someone with strong recruiting to the New York area to take over the program.
Louisville assistant Steve Masiello, St. John’s assistant Fred Quartlebaum and Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice will likely be three of the contenders to land the job should Grasso not be retained.
Quartlebaum and Rice are both Fordham alums. Quartlebaum was a captain there in the mid-80s and Rice played on teams that went to three NITs in the late 80s and early 90s.
Seton Hall’s Dermon Player would be another strong option because of his strong local recruiting ties, especially in New York.
“They need an outsider to come in and change everything,” a second source said.
Fran Fraschilla and Tim Welsh have both been mentioned as options but another source said, “I don’t think the money will be right.”
Still, Grasso has strong recruiting ties to local powerhouses St. Anthony and Paterson Catholic, as well as the New York schools.
With Fontan, Fordham has three former St. Anthony players on the roster — Fontan, Chris Gaston and Alberto Estwick — and Grasso has a tight relationship with legendary St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley.
“I feel terribly for Dereck Whittenburg. I consider myself in the coaching fraternity with him,” Hurley said Friday. “I wish Jared the best of luck.”
As far as other recruits go, Whittenburg opted to stop recruiting former Brooklyn Thomas Jefferson forward Joel “Air Jamaica” Wright, now at Central Carolina Sports Academy.
The New York Post reported that Wright decommitted from Fordham, but the program had distanced itself from him first.
“They didn’t send me a Letter of Intent,” Wright said by phone. “I’m like, ‘Alright, what’s going on?’ Nobody is answering me.”
Wright said he wasn’t certain what he would do but has been hearing from Drexel, Baylor and Southern Illinois.
As for his own future, Grasso said he wants to be the head coach in the long run and believes he can turn things around.
“I’d be crazy to say I didn’t want the job for the long term,” Grasso said. “They gave me an opporunity and I’m the interim head coach.
“I can only control the things I can control. That’s working hard every day, being on the road recruiting and getting them to play hard. I have become accustomed to controlling the things I can control and that’s what I’m going to do in this situation.”
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.