Perhaps one of the biggest and best moves Queen of Peace High School made last spring was hiring former St. Anthony High School and University of Southern California point guard Jiovanny Fontan as the school’s new girls’ basketball coach.
Because after the 26-year-old Fontan arrived, an influx of tremendously talented players followed suit. Transfers from other schools came flocking. Incoming freshmen with impeccable talents and resumes came calling.
Suddenly, a program that was completely downtrodden for the last few years became a statewide power overnight. Welcome to the world of New Jersey Parochial school basketball, where transfers are now commonplace and floundering programs become powerful in the blink of an eye.
Fontan makes no bones about wanting to become a head coach of a girls’ program. Just two years removed from a brief professional career after a well-documented and well-respected high school and collegiate career (Fordham, then USC), Fontan wanted to go to a school where he would eventually be able to coach his extremely talented 13-year-old sister Jianni, currently in the seventh grade.
The opportunity opened up at Queen of Peace and Fontan pounced on it, knowing that it was a challenge to start from ground zero, with a Golden Griffins program that won all of one game last season.
“I’m not worrying about what happened last year and whether that would hinder us,” Fontan said. “Some people told me that it’s impossible, coaching 15-and-16-year-old girls. I’m just here to have them make sure they understand what life’s all about. I’m trying to be upbeat and positive here. I never expected to be able to pick up a coaching position as fast as I did. But I’m here. I’m willing to work. I definitely wanted to be a girls’ coach, so this is exactly what I wanted.”
Fontan said that it’s been a smooth transition for him.
“It’s been great,” Fontan said. “It’s the perfect situation for me. It’s the best of all worlds. I have some good basketball players who know what we need to do to win. I definitely have some that know their parts and know their responsibilities. In fact, it’s been a blessing to have a lot of girls that were looking for a new situation. I think that’s all a plus.”
One of the top transfers is 6-foot-4 junior forward Raven Farley-Clark, who comes to QP from Paterson Eastside after a stint at the Patrick School.
Farley-Clark has to sit out the first 30 days of the season due to the NJSIAA’s transfer rules, but when she becomes eligible to play, she will be a dominant force.
“She already has some big-time legitimate offers from colleges,” Fontan said of Farley-Clark, who could already choose from one of the 15 major college offers she has received. “I think she’s going to have a breakout year and can average 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, just to be safe.”
In other words, it could be more.
Freshman Asonah Alexander is a 5-foot-9 point guard who Fontan believes could be the best of the bunch already. A product of Newark, Alexander brought her grade school to the Newark schools championship.
“In the championship game, she scored 51 of her team’s 53 points,” Fontan said. “She’s got a chance to be the best player we’ve ever seen here. She can handle, distribute and makes everyone around her better. Other girls wanted to play with her. She’s that good.”
Junior D’Aviyon Magazine is a 5-foot-8 junior, a transfer from Paterson Eastside. Magazine also has to sit the first 30 days of the season due to the transfer regulations.
“She’s a legitimate 3-point shooter,” Fontan said. “She’s also our best vocal leader.”
Sophomore Sydney Watkins is a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard who is a transfer from DePaul in Wayne.
“She’s our most physically developed player,” Fontan said. “She’s very strong and can play anywhere.”
Jamira Watkins (no relation) is a 6-foot junior forward who is an excellent rebounder and eventually will be a great compliment on the front line to Farley-Clark.
“She’s also a great rebounder and a physical stopper,” Fontan said. “She’s a very good defender.”
Forever Toppin is a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, a transfer from Immaculate Conception of Lodi. She can play right away.
“She’s very skilled,” Fontan said. “She can shoot it, pass it and score it. She is a very good all-around player.”
Jayla McDuffie is a 6-foot-1 junior forward who transferred from Dwight-Englewood. She also can play right away.
With all the transfers – which one is eligible and which one is not – there could be some confusion in the early going.
“It’s extremely tough,” Fontan said. “But it will give me a chance to look at others who might not have received a chance. It gives us all a good feel of who we are as we try to establish an identity.”
The Golden Griffins open up Friday night against Harrison.
“We’re very excited to get this going,” Fontan said. “We’ve been working hard for a long time. We’re ready to go after it and beat up on someone else after beating up on ourselves in practices for a while.”
Make no bones about it. No one will be happy seeing Queen of Peace walk through the front doors of their gymnasium, after welcoming the Golden Griffins with open arms the last few years. This is not your typical QP pushover. In fact, this team will be the one doing the pushing.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”