On eve of draft, Fontan eyeing year to come

Two weeks ago, we wrote about former USC baseball player Grant Green, who, in the year since he was drafted 13th overall by the Oakland A's, has made tremendous strides in developing as a shortstop and all-around hitter.

In that story, Green reflected some on his 2009 MLB draft experience and speculated a bit about where a few Trojans prospects would go in the 2010 draft.

Well, today we present the opposite: a story about USC's Jio Fontan, a junior-to-be point guard who transferred from Fordham last December and who has his eyes set on the NBA — eventually. Fontan also has high hopes for the Trojans who could be selected in Thursday's NBA draft, swingmen Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson.

Fontan — pronounced as if there's an "i" between the last two letters of his name — spent a little more than one full season playing for Fordham, averaging 15.3 points and 4.7 assists per game his freshman year for a dismal Atlantic 10 team that finished 3-25. He requested a release from his scholarship at the conclusion of the season but didn't get it, then returned to school — only to endure much of the same at the start of the 2009-2010 season, going 1-4 and losing to MAAC bottom-feeder Manhattan by double digits.

He decided to transfer to USC in December, then spent the spring semester getting acquainted to his new school and teammates. He often served as a sort of understudy for Johnson and Lewis in the backcourt during late-season practices.

Fontan will be able to play for the Trojans this season after the fall semester, possessing two remaining years of eligibility — with a possible third year if the NCAA grants him a waiver.

Before any of that, though, he wants to focus on the upcoming season. Yes, he says, he has thought about declaring for the 2011 draft, assuming the season goes well — he even talked it over with USC coach Kevin O'Neill in what appears to be a a fast-moving friendship.

But that's not the 6-foot, 178-pound scoring point guard's immediate goal. That, rather, is grabbing attention for himself and a USC team that will return both members of its frontcourt and have the services of three highly touted freshman.

"I'm most excited because now I finally get to play on a big stage, in front of the right people and I get a better feel for what the next level is looking for," Fontan said Tuesday. "Right now, I really don't have too much of an idea besides what my coaches tell me."

"And once the season starts I want to be the leader of the team from the sideline, and I want my team to know once December 18 (his projected return date) comes that I'll be on the court and I'll be just like another coach on the court."

Fontan also provides assessments of the Trojans' 2010 draft hopefuls.

"He is definitely a big-time shot maker," he says of Lewis, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard who led the Trojans in scoring his junior and senior seasons. "And, Dwight, with him having a great career at USC, being drafted would be something that’s big for not only him but for our program too.”

"He has that athleticism and the ability to play defense," he says of the explosive Johnson.

Lewis has worked out for the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks, among other teams; Johnson has reportedly impressed in auditions for the L.A. Clippers and Chicago Bulls, where he could conceivably join former USC teammate Taj Gibson.

The most likely route for both of the former Trojans is fighting for a roster spot through an opportunity in the NBA's Vegas Summer League, beginning next month. But, of course, at this time last year most thought Gibson would go in the late-second round or not be chosen; instead, he was picked in the first round — 26th overall — by the Bulls and became a starter by the end of the year.

“I know it’s something that they’ve dreamed about for the past four years,” Fontan said. “And they've both been working really hard.

"I think they’ve both got a shot.”