The USC Trojans worst fears were confirmed on Thursday after it was learned that senior guard and team leader Jio Fontan would need surgery on his injured knee and will likely miss the entirety of the 2011-12 season.
Fontan suffered a ligament injury in his left knee during Tuesday's exhibition against Brazil's Mogi Das Cruzes when he collided with another player while going strong to the basket.
Although x-ray tests came up negative, an MRI examination performed last week revealed the tear, likely ending Fontan's season.
"I couldn't feel worse for any player I've coached in my career," said head coach Kevin O'Neill, in his third year at USC. "Jio is the heart and soul of our team and had become a high-level player. His loss is a huge blow to our team. Our best thoughts go out to Jio and his family during his recovery.”
"However, our team is determined to move forward and do what we've done the past two years, which is fight like Trojans and have a great season. We as a team are undaunted by this loss and we will play great basketball for our fans."
The 6-foot combo-guard was a big transfer get for coach O'Neill; Jio averaged 10.5 ppg in 2010-11 after sitting out the first semester due to transfer rules.
Fontan looked quite good in the first two of the Trojans' Brazilian exhibition games, scoring a team-best 57 points against the schools first two opponents, and was expected to be leaned on heavily this season.
While replacing Fontan's production will be difficult, O'Neill indicated that true freshman Alexis Moore may slide into the starting lineup alongside point guard Maurice Jones.
Moore, a standout at Long Beach Poly High, averaged 9.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 4.1 apg and helped the Jackrabbits capture the CIF Southern Section Division I-AA championship, while finishing 31-2 on the year.
Junior college transfer Greg Allen, formerly of Navarro College, should also expect to see increased time at off-guard in the wake of Fontan's season-ending injury. The 6-foot-3 wing is an exceptional outside shooter and perimeter defender, who averaged 11.0 ppg and 1.3 spg last season.
True freshman Byron Wesley and senior walk-on Eric Strangis are the other two shooting guards on the USC roster.
© 2011 Neal J. Leitereg -- All Rights Reserved