The USC men’s basketball team, left for Brazil ealier this August with some work to do.
Using an NCAA exception to play preseason games abraod, the Trojans looked to figure out just how its pieces fit together before the start of the 2011-12 season.
After a season where he led USC in assists and finished second in scoring, senior guard Jio Fontan, the fifth-year senior, seemed poised to provide much-needed leadership.
Fontan looked to be up to the challange, scoring a combined 57 points in the first two games of USC’s Brazilian exhibition tour.
In the third game, however, Fontan was hurt after landing awkwardly while making an aggressive move to the basket with 4:24 remaining in the first half against Mogi das Cruzes. The shell-shocked Trojans went on to lose the exhibition game 81-70.
Fontan cut the trip early to return to Los Angeles, where it was determined he tore a ligament in his left knee, which will require season-ending surgery.
“Our style of play is going to have to change from what we thought it was going to be with Jio,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We are going to have to re-evaluate over the next couple of months before we start practice what we are going to need to do to be competitive in this league with nobody of any experience whatsoever.”
Fontan is expected to be replaced in the starting line-up by 6-foot-2 guard Alexis Moore, a freshman from Long Beach Poly. With Fontan out, Moore recorded 16 points and four assists in the Trojans’ final exhibition against Tijuca.
“[Moore] played well,” O’Neill said. “It is going to be incumbent upon him to step up and do some good things because it eliminates a lot of our guard depth with him not being on the bench, and forced to start as a freshman.”
Maurice Jones, a sophomore who started alongside Fontan for much of last season, can also slide over to play point guard. The only other guards on scholarship are junior Greg Allen, a transfer from Navarro College and Byron Wesley, a freshman from Etiwanda High School.
The Trojans will count on a slew of inexperienced players next season. Jones, who averaged 9.9 points last season, and sophomore forward Garrett Jackson, who contributed an average 3.2 points per game, are the only two returning players who scored a point for USC last season.
“[Fontan’s injury] eliminates a huge experience and leadership level, and we need to find guys to take over that role,” O’Neill said.
After struggling with foul trouble early in the trip, center Dewayne Dedmon, a redshirt sophomore who transferred from Antelope Valley College, had 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks against Mogi das Cruzes, and 19 points, five rebounds and four blocks in the final exhibition against Tijuca.
Jones scored 16 or more points for the Trojans in the final three games.
The Trojans finished the exhibition tour 2-2, defeating Tijuca and Pindamonhangaba, while falling to Mogi das Cruzes and Sao Jose dos Campos.
The trip allowed USC to hold 10 practices in August prior to departure, rather than having to wait for the traditional start of practice in mid-October.
“The only bad thing that happened on the trip was the injury to Jio,” O’Neill said. “The rest was a great trip for everybody.”
The Trojans open the 2011-2012 season at home against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 11.