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.
When Jio Fontan wanted to leave Fordham last December, he was given a conditional release and prohibited from landing at a number of schools.
It was perfectly understandable for Fontan to be prevented from transferring within the Atlantic 10 Conference, but he was also restricted from joining nearly half a dozen Big East schools, including Rutgers.
Fontan, a 6-foot point guard who played for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, once sat courtside at Rutgers but never had any serious intention of coming to the school. He ultimately landed at Southern Cal.
Four months later, Mike Rosario, Fontan’s close friend and former St. Anthony teammate, is going through a similar experience as Rutgers attempts to buy out head coach Fred Hill.
Only this time, Rutgers is the school telling a star player where he can and cannot go.
According to Gannett New Jersey, Rutgers will file tampering charges against USC in the Rosario transfer case. The school will also seek to prevent Rosario, who has yet to obtain a release, from going to Kansas and Florida.
“This is like Fordham all over again,” said a source close to both Fontan and Rosario. “It’s like the same [stuff] I see all over again.”
That same stuff is a University telling a young man what he can and can’t do with his life and his basketball talents.
Fordham came off looking absurd in the Fontan case, and Rutgers is treading in the same dangerous waters.
“To have them sit out a year [after transferring], that’s pathetic. Regulating where you can go makes it more pathetic,” Sonny Vaccaro, the former grassroots sneaker czar who has become a full-time critic of the NCAA and its practices, said when speaking generally about transfers.
“I just don’t know where schools can feel a clean conscience over this. It’s one of [the NCAA’s] many rules that are wrong but this is right at the top of the list.”
Big East rules prevent Rosario from transferring within the league, but why shouldn’t he be allowed to go anywhere else that he wants? Why shouldn’t he be allowed to play at USC, Kansas or Florida, or anywhere else outside of the Big East for that matter?
And what’s more, if you’re Rutgers, don’t you benefit from telling the young man, “We hope you stay here and give the new coach a chance. But if you don’t want that, we support you because you’ve done so much for our program.”
Instead, Rutgers, like Fordham before it, is telling a player exactly what he can’t do, which may only engender more bad feelings on Rosario’s end.
“He can’t play for a year,” Vaccaro said, again speaking generally about transfers. “Your guy [the head coach] is gone now and your guy is free to do whatever he wants to do. Your school is free to do whatever they want to do and this kid isn’t free to do anything?
“And then one of these days the public and the media is going to force change. This one should be one of the first to go.”
According to the source close to Rosario and Fontan, Southern Cal has done nothing improper vis-a-vis Rosario, who led the team in scoring the last two seasons.
“They can look all they want,” the source said. “Nobody did anything illegal. The proof is in the pudding. As far as the school reaching out or anything like that, I know for a fact that that hasn’t been done.”
The source added: “What are they gonna do, pick every school that Mike’s interested in?”
Rosario came to Rutgers amid high hopes.
He was the prized recruit out of Hurley’s undefeated 2008 St. Anthony team that won the Tournament of Champions and was chronicled in the excellent documentary, “The Street Stops Here.”
Greg Echenique, out of St. Benedict’s Prep, was the other top recruit in that class that was supposed to put Hill — and Rutgers — into the upper echelon of the Big East.
Instead, Hill went 47-77 over four seasons and managed to have 11 players transfer on his watch.
Echenique has already left Rutgers for Creighton amid family concerns that his detached retina wasn’t handled or treated properly by the coaching and medical staff.
Now the school appears intent upon giving Rosario a hard time as he tries to move forward with his life and career in hopes of making the NBA.
Fontan has been there before and knows how that feels.
He learned that certain supposed “mentors and coaches” who should have been there to guide him and give him good advice turned out to have their own interests at stake.
“When things came hard for me, and I relied on them for certain things, a lot of people turned their back on me,” Fontan said in a phone interview.
Four months after Fordham told Fontan what he could and couldn’t do, Rutgers is making the same dangerous mistake with Rosario.
Like the man said, “This is like Fordham all over again.”
(Photo courtesy ScarletKnights.com)
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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.