Ty Johnson is in an unusual situation. The Villanova transfer has never suited up in a game for the South Carolina basketball team, but when he becomes eligible to play at the end of the first semester in December, he will be leaned on to be one of the team leaders.
The Gamecocks have six players returning. Three of those are sophomores; one (Bruce Ellington) splits his time between basketball and football; and one (Carlton Geathers) is questionable to play again with a knee injury that wiped out his 2012-13 season.
Johnson has embraced the leadership role.
“Everywhere I’ve been, I was always expected to be a leader,” Johnson said. “Being new to the team and playing for Frank Martin, I’m excited to take on the role of a leader. I’m excited to finally be able to get on the court and change this program and get this team multiple victories.”
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Before Martin left for the World University Games, he addressed the importance of having the point guard as one of the leaders and the progress that Johnson has made.
“The guy that has been most consistent from a leadership standpoint has been Ty,” Martin said. “Ty has shown that ability since the season ended, not just in the last two weeks. I told him in January he has to figure it out. When your point guard is that person, it’s important. Centers and wings can scream and demand that people do stuff and encourage everyone to go to workouts. But when the games start, the ball is in that point guard’s hands. If he is not fully engaged with what the coaches are about, then you have a disconnect. The fact he has accepted that job gets me excited.”
Johnson is playing the South Carolina Pro-Am this summer, and getting back on the court in a competitive environment has been crucial to his leadership development, he said. Johnson is on the same team as highly touted incoming USC freshman Sindarius Thornwell, and the two have looked smooth together playing in the same back court.
Johnson is leaner and a little quicker than when he arrived in Columbia.
“I feel 100 percent healthy, I’m in shape and just trying to keep my motor running” Johnson said.”These games in the Pro-Am, like I told my teammates, ‘take everything, every second, like it’s your last. You never know when your time might be up.’“
Johnson, who was a Top 75 recruit out of high school, played his freshman year at Villanova, where he started nine of 32 games and averaged 17 minutes, 3.3 points and 2 assists per game. He probably will not be asked to be a huge scorer in the Gamecocks offense but he has the ability to get to the rim and knock down the open jumper..
“He’s got to get better with his perimeter shooting, and he’s working on it,” Martin said of the 6-foot-3 Johnson. “But if he didn’t shoot the perimeter shot, he always wants to get to the rim. He’s a big, strong guard, but he has to be able to play at that 10-12 foot range sometime.
“Defensively, he has a chance to be good because he’s a big kid — big hands and long arms. Ty understands angles. He might not be the most gifted athlete from a speed standpoint, but his mind allows him to get to the right spot most of the time.”
How long Johnson will be at USC has come into question. Most thought he would be classified as a sophomore but he played nine minutes in an exhibition during his second season with Villanova before leaving the program in December. The NCAA declared that he’s a junior because he played before transferring.
South Carolina and Johnson have started the appeal process to try to reclaim that season.
“The only thing I can do is just go through the process,” Johnson said. “I’ll maybe get a year back. But if not, I’m just going to continue to get better. I felt like this is home to me.”