Senior day was emotional for everyone involved at USC as fans watched six esteemed players finish their careers at the Galen Center on Saturday.
The Trojans sent the seniors home with a one-point victory, capping the powerful day at the Galen Center. The pre-game ceremony was fitting, as each senior received a strong introduction, an ovation from the crowd and an embracing hug from Head Coach Bob Cantu.
Captain Jio Fontan was the most celebrated of the group, playing three years at USC and serving as the emotional leader of the team. James Blasczyk, Tyler Sugiama, Renaldo Woolridge, Eric Wise and Aaron Fuller joined in the festivities as the remaining seniors to be honored against Arizona State.
It all starts with Jio Fontan, the transfer from Fordham who is averaging 9.7 points per game and a career-high 5.3 assists. He fouled out with under five minutes to play, leaving him on the bench for the final moments of his last home game. Despite the rough ending, Fontan led the Trojans with seven first-half points, and fought through a wrist injury suffered in the second half.
The Trojans looked out of sync without him, something that speaks volumes to his leadership qualities. He has developed his basketball IQ from the second he stepped foot in Southern California and the team will dearly miss his late-shot presence and composed vision on the court.
Eric Wise has been a sound addition to Troy, leading the team in scoring with over 12 points per game while shooting 47-percent from the field. Wise was dominant on the offensive end against Arizona, scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-12 shooting. Although he struggled from the field against Arizona State, he made big baskets to secure the Trojans one-point victory.
He came on strong for the Trojans, providing a great interior scoring presence. The aspect of Wise’s game that was vastly underrated was his rebounding, especially with his smaller frame. He could play the three or the four, giving USC a much-needed scoring presence from all over the floor.
Aaron Fuller has been an inspirational figure while at USC, and was properly rewarded for his never-die attitude. Last season Fuller was second on the team in scoring before suffering a season-ending shoulder surgery. In a season full of ups and down, Fuller started the final game for the Trojans in what was a great weekend for his playing stock after scoring 12 points against Arizona. Fuller racked in seven rebounds in his final home game, and should be used a solid forward option for Head Coach Bob Cantu.
In a surprising and yet revealing move, Head Coach Bob Cantu started five of the six seniors with Renaldo Woolridge not entering the game. Tyler Sugiyama received quite the standing ovation after playing a minute of action, getting playing time as part of the early zone defense. This team-oriented approach sat well with the starters who were more than willing to give up their fame for their elder counterparts.
James Blascyzk kept to the script, taking a charge on Jahii Carson in the first minute of action. The seven-foot senior may never have been truly healthy but his impact was immense, especially on the defensive end of the court. Blascyzk worked hard on defense and pushed Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby to improve their respective games.
The most gutsy performance of his career was the fact that he played the entire 2011-2012 season injured. James Blascyzk may not get the accolades of Wise, Fuller and Fontan but his impact can be seen in the next generation of Trojans that will man the paint by taking charges, scrapping for rebounds and playing every minute with urgency on the floor.
At the end of the day, the Trojans got the best of both worlds on Senior Day. An important one-point victory over Arizona State and a tremendous send-off for their hard working players. The victory propels the Trojans to sixth in the Pac-12, winners of five out of the their last six games. The seniors must now hit the road for a critical series in Washington that could propel the Trojans to fourth in the Pac-12.