The next phase of Jiovanny Fontan’s basketball life just happened by a stroke of luck.
The former University of Southern California point guard, who first gained notoriety as a standout floor leader for St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, just happened to be surfing the Internet recently, when he stumbled across the story about Queen of Peace and the problems in hiring a new girls’ basketball coach.
“I was intrigued,” said Fontan, who just graduated from USC two years ago and spent the last couple of years playing professional basketball in Puerto Rico and Paraguay. “So I decided to make a few phone calls.”
Fontan called his friend, Bilal Dicon, who played for QP a few years ago before heading off to Providence.
“I reached out to Bilal to see if the position had been filled,” Fontan said. “He made a few calls for me and got me a meeting with the athletic director (Ed Abromaitis) and the principal (John Tonero).”
All the 24-year-old Fontan needed to impress the QP powersthat- be was that one meeting, because Fontan was hired last week as the new girls’ basketball coach, ending all the controversy surrounding the open coaching slot.
Fontan was one of the most central figures in the award-winning documentary about the St. Anthony basketball program, “The Street Stops Here,” which was telecast on both ESPN and the MSG Network.
He spent two years at Fordham University after graduating from St. Anthony and averaged 15.3 points per game as a freshman.
During his sophomore year at Fordham, Fontan suffered a torn ACL that forced him to miss almost the entire season.
He then transferred to USC and played for the Trojans for two years, leading USC into the NCAA Tournament in 2011 as a junior.
Fontan tried his hand at pro basketball, but then remembered words that his coach at USC, Kevin O’Neill, told him.
“He said something that always stuck with me,” Fontan said of O’Neill. “He said, ‘Bas ketball can be a career for you. Coaching can be a career.’ I remembered that.”
After his playing days were over, Fontan returned to his native New Jersey. He then got involved coaching his younger sister Jiann on her AAU team, the New Jersey Sparks.
“As soon as I got home, I got the chance to coach my sister and I really liked it,” Fontan said. “It opened my eyes to the changes that have been made to girls’ basketball. It inspired me to want to coach girls’ basketball. I fell in love with it.”
Fontan, who is currently working with Hoboken Recreation, thought that QP offered a big-time chance to break into high school basketball.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Fontan, who realized that the Golden Griffins won only one game last winter. “I’m not necessarily accustomed to losing, but it’s a great first step for me. I think the program has a lot of potential, a lot of room to grow with me. I’m stepping in new from Day One and can set the foundation for the years to come.”
There is only one way to go when you inherit a one-win program.
Fontan was the point guard on the celebrated undefeated St. Anthony team featured in the documentary, winning the mythical national championship in 2008, a team that also featured former Brooklyn Nets guard Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas) as well as Mike Rosario (Rutgers then Florida), Travon Woodall (Pitt) and Dominic Cheek (Villanova).
In fact, before he decided to take the position at QP, Fontan reached out to legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley, who mentored Fontan in high school at St. Anthony.
“I spoke with Coach Hurley before the interview,” Fontan said. “It had been a while since I had spoken with him, but right away, it was like I was back at practice. I told him that I really wanted to coach girls’ basketball. I could sense the energy that was coming from Coach Hurley. I have so much respect for that man.”
Fontan believes that he was groomed to eventually become a coach from his days at St. Anthony.
“I think from Day One there, I was ready,” Fontan said. “My senior year, I was named the captain and the starting point guard. That was a place of honor. Coach Hurley said he never named a captain before, maybe the last one was Bobby (the coach’s son and former Duke All-American, now the head coach at Arizona State).
Added Fontan, “Coach Hurley saw that in me back then. I told him that I wanted to go into coaching, but wanted to go on the girls’ side and he was very supportive of me. I had that conversation with Coach Hurley about the future, and after that, it was big for me to have him give me the encouragement to do it.”
So Fontan feels like he’s ready for the challenge ahead.
“When I was the point guard, I had to be the coach on the floor,” Fontan said. “So to me, coaching was natural. This is a great opportunity for me. I’m going to meet the girls this week, then I’m going to try to build relationships with the parents in the area. I’m excited about this challenge. I know I’m ready.” It seems as if QP has hired the right man to take the girls’ program at the school to the next level. The pedigree is certainly there.