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Tuesday / June 25.
  • Fontan, USC Hoops Relieved After Latest News

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    Despite the huge penalties levied by the NCAA against the Southern California football team Thursday, Jio Fontan and his teammates on the basketball team are somewhat relieved.

    “It’s a little weird because as far as basketball-wise, things went pretty decent I guess. Of course we’d rather have no sanctions at all. But we understand we did wrong and we know we had to have some penalties,” Fontan, the Paterson, N.J. native and former St. Anthony star who transferred to USC from Fordham, said late Thursday night during a phone interview.

    In January, USC implemented self-imposed sanctions on the basketball team in the wake of the O.J. Mayo scandal, but no additional penalties were levied Thursday.

    Fontan said he and his teammates learned the good news during a Thursday afternoon meeting with second-year coach Kevin O’Neill.

    “I applaud them on realizing self-imposing was our way of saying, ‘You know what, we did make some mistakes along the way and what we better do is be vigilant in our efforts,’ which we will,” O’Neill said on campus.

    As part of its self-imposed punishment, USC will return to the NCAA the money it received through the Pac-10 for playing in the 2008 NCAA tournament, when the Trojans lost in the first round.

    The Trojans lost one scholarship for last season and one for next season; they lost one coach to off-campus recruiting this summer; and lose 20 recruiting days for next season.

    USC also vacated its 21 victories during the 2007-08 season, when Mayo competed while ineligible.

    Those penalties pale in comparison to what the NCAA handed down to the football team Thursday in the wake of the Reggie Bush situation.

    The NCAA banned the football team from bowl games for two years, took away 30 scholarships and placed the school on four years’ probation for improper benefits to Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back.

    “The sanctions they had were in my opinion a little harsher than what we expected,” Fontan said. “A lot of people are down because they know that this year we really expected to compete with [quarterback] Matt Barkley coming back for his sophomore year. He’s been having a real good summer. And then you got Brice Butler is looking real good, and a couple of the freshmen.

    “So everyone is just hoping that the appeal goes well and we get some of those sanctions taken away.”

    As far as basketball, Fontan said he gained new respect for last year’s seniors because they played without hope of a postseason bid.

    “I paid a lot of homage to the guys last year because they made it through the season knowing there was no postseason,” he said. “It’s hard to stay motivated and work hard every day and go to practice knowing you can’t achieve a Pac-10 championship or a tournament championship or get to the NCAA, which everybody is dreaming.”

    Fontan himself becomes eligible in mid-December after the transfer — perhaps in time to play former St. Anthony teammate Tyshawn Taylor and Kansas Dec. 18 at Allen Fieldhouse.

    He said he and his teammates are motivated to start anew in the wake of the good news.

    “It was definitely motivating and definitely uplifting,” he said.

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    (The AP contributed)

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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.

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