Oct. 8, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
Tyrone Johnson is excited to have another chance. Now a senior, the point guard endured an emotional rollercoaster last year in his first season with the Gamecocks after discovering his eligibility status had been changed in his favor the day before the first game of the year, only to have his season come to an end prematurely with a broken foot in early January.
"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."
Johnson had transferred from Villanova in January of 2013, and initially was told he would not be eligible to play for the Gamecocks during the first two months of the next season due to transfer rules, but after a successful appeal to the NCAA, Coach Frank Martin called him on the night before the season opener to tell him he could play right away.
"Before I found out, every day I was encouraging the guys to do their best and represent our university well and to have fun," Johnson said. "When Coach Martin called me, I just started jumping up and down. I was really excited. He told me to be thankful to the man upstairs and that my time was now."
Johnson was averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 assists per game when he suffered the season-ending Injury while colliding with one of the officials in the third SEC game of the year at Texas A&M on January 15.
"I was very disappointed and depressed," Johnson said. "I couldn't do anything about it though other than go to rehab and continue to be a good teammate. I still had responsibilities."
"I want to come out and have that fire and play the hardest that I can for Coach Martin and my teammates."
Glad to Be Back
Several months of rehab have him ready to play and Johnson says he's back to feeling 100 percent. As a senior who plays point guard, Johnson embraces the role of trying to be a team leader.
"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."
Nobody has had to tell him to take on this role, and he has learned from older players that leadership happens off the court as well.
"When I was a freshman, the upperclassmen were there for me," Johnson said. "So I have to be there for the younger players now. As a senior you have more responsibilities on your shoulders, and these are the moments that you live for. The best way to be a leader off the court is to help the freshmen learn about what it's like to be in college. It can be hard, but I always tell them, you always want to ask for help because you have a lot on your hands and sometimes that's hard to manage. You want to build that brotherhood among your team, knowing that you have a family here."
With the Gamecocks being a very young team last year, he looks forward to helping the program take the next step.
"I want to come out and have that fire and play the hardest that I can for Coach Martin and my teammates," Johnson said. "Everybody wants to go to the NCAA Tournament, but you also have to set smaller goals within the team to help you reach those greater goals."
Johnson decided to transfer to South Carolina not only because of Martin's passion and reputation as a winner, but because of how the coach treats his student-athletes.
"What sold me on him was how he puts his players before himself," Johnson said. "Coach Martin is a very respectful and truthful guy. Some coaches are different during the recruiting process, but he's going to treat you like a man, and he's been the same guy I sat down with on my recruiting trip. He's been caring and willing to help me and be another father figure."
Johnson continued to build that relationship with Martin, as well as sophomore teammate Sindarius Thornwell, over the summer as the trio were a part of the USA East Coast team, which competed in Tallinn, Estonia. The European competition gave them the opportunity to play against foreign national teams consisting of NBA players and Euro-League all-stars, with Martin serving as the head coach.
"That was a really good experience," Johnson said. "We had the chance to play for our country and have fun as well. The players and fans welcomed us and were very respectful."
Johnson is someone who is respectful of his role as a student-athlete and has been involved in many of the team's community service projects in the last year. He makes it a point to encourage children to stay in school after being told the same thing when he was younger by an older player from his area, Mike Nardi, who went on to play at Villanova as well as professionally overseas.
"When you have a chance to give back to the community and be a role model, it's great," Johnson said. "You always hear kids who want to go to the NBA or the NFL or whatever, and that's all good, but you have to have a good education. Playing sports is great for meeting a lot of people and making some connections, but it also keeps you out of trouble. If I didn't play sports and still had the opportunity to go to school, I would definitely do it. I'm blessed to be in school and have a scholarship. Not many people have that opportunity."
When his basketball career is over, Johnson dreams of having his own business.
"I want to be able to give back to people who have always been connected with me and helped me," Johnson said.
For now, when he's not playing basketball, Johnson likes to relax, but what most fans don't know is that there is another sport he enjoys and is very competitive.
"I'm really good at bowling," Johnson said. "The highest score I ever got was probably around 250. We went once as a team, and I was obviously the winner of that trip."
As the clock ticks down to his final season, Johnson can't wait for the doors to open at the Colonial Life Arena. For him, one of the best parts about being a Gamecock is the fans.
"These fans follow all sports here, not just football" Johnson said. "Look at what our women's basketball team is doing. It's been very fun to watch and see the fans there as well. I see all the people coming to soccer games, and I remember going to see our sand volleyball team play and seeing all of our fans and student-athletes out there too. I'm really excited."
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