Ty Johnson enters this season with about as much emotion as he did last season, but for different reasons. Last year, Johnson received a waiver from the NCAA on the eve of South Carolina's season opener vs. Longwood with the news that he was eligible to play, effective immediately. This season, the senior point guard returns following a devastating foot injury that forced him to sit out half the season.
The Plainsfield, NJ native transferred to South Carolina from Villanova in January of 2013. Johnson and his reinstated eligibility led the way for the Gamecocks early on. Johnson posted a career high in points (18) in the opener vs. Longwood. He ended up matching that career high two more times later in the season, going for 18 in wins vs. Florida International and Marshall. Johnson also distributed a career high eight assists in South Carolina's close loss at No. 23 Baylor.
Johnson injured his foot on January 15th vs. Texas A&M and entering that game he was averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 assists per game. Even though he only played in 16 games due to his injury, Johnson dished out the 3rd-most assists on the team and scored the 6th-most points. As painful as getting injured was, Johnson is more than ready for one last shot at college basketball. "If I was a senior last year, that would have been the biggest heartbreak of my life," Johnson said. "I get another chance to redeem myself and come back stronger, and that has been my mindset this whole off-season. God gave me another chance to play."
God also gave Johnson another opportunity to accomplish his goals, which are lofty. "My goals individually, I want to be the best player that I can. I want to be the best point guard in the SEC. Those are my goals. I say that with a passion, not because I'm back on the floor, but because I take pride in whoever steps in front of me, that I'm better than them, not in a cocky way, but with confidence and the will to believe in myself and believe in the role of being the point guard and the team leader."
Something Johnson eluded to at the end of that quote may be his most important role this season: team leader. As the only senior on the team and the point guard, Johnson is the unquestioned leader and it's even better that he's aware of that. "When you're the point guard, you're the coach on the floor besides Coach Martin," Johnson said. "You've got the ball in your hands and my job is to make the offense go, do what Coach Martin says, and to push guys to compete and want to get better."
Martin realizes the impact Ty can have on his team both as a leader and as a player. "Tyrone Johnson, senior guard, who fully understands what we do, is fully committed to playing the game with our ideas and strategies. He's going to be a front-line leader as a point guard to our basketball team. When he got hurt last year our team was playing very good basketball, and it was because of his growth as a player within our system."
When Johnson speaks you can hear his passion. Passion of a player that has had to wait, watch, and endure too much because of injuries and the NCAA. "I want to come out and have that fire and play the hardest that I can for Coach Martin and my teammates," Johnson said. Johnson was an absolute beast, filled with fire in the Gamecocks' exhibition vs. Benedict, leading all scorers with 23 points while adding six assists and six rebounds.
The kind of person Ty is makes you hope he'll succeed in his last season but he can't do it by himself. As a senior leader, Johnson is going to run through a wall to succeed in his last year. Will his teammates be following?