Ty Johnson doesn’t view it as someone holding his place in line.
He looks at it as a chance for everyone to get better, himself included.
“I’m not viewing it in any wrong way,” South Carolina’s junior point guard said on Tuesday. “I’m just doing whatever coach (Frank) Martin and the staff need me to do.
“If they need me to play multiple minutes at the point guard, I’m going to do that job. If they need me to play the two (shooting guard), I’m going to play the two. But I’m not saying, ‘This is my job.’ I’m not being cocky about anything. I’m here for my teammates.”
Johnson is expected to play a lot of minutes for the Gamecocks this year, most likely at his natural position of point guard. But as he’s become accustomed, he’s going to have to wait to do it. Because he transferred from Villanova in the middle of a semester and enrolled at USC in January, he has to wait until his transfer period of one year is up.
That will come when the USC fall semester ends, the last exams are given and his final grades are posted. It could be sooner, but Johnson plans to play against Manhattanon Dec. 17.
He’ll miss USC’s first five games, plus an exhibition against USC Aiken, and those five are games where the Gamecocks could really use another experienced player. USC visits Baylor, Oklahoma State and Clemson among that stretch.
USC is in the strange position of going into the season without its two most experienced point guards. Bruce Ellington will finish the football season before reporting for basketball. The Gamecocks are looking at a trio of freshmen to fill the role. Jaylen Shaw, Duane Notice and, perhaps, Sindarius Thornwell will play the point until Johnson and Ellington return.
When Johnson is cleared, he said it will be about working his way in, building on the team concept and then helping the Gamecocks win.
“From last year to this year, we’re heading in the right direction,” Johnson said. “I’m just happy for the new beginning and new start for this program and right now, we’re just giving it our all.”
A 6-foot-3 former high-school quarterback, Johnson brings good size and quickness to the position. He was able to practice with the Gamecocks during the conference season last year, and also honed his game at the summer-league S.C. Pro-Am. A former high-school teammate of Michael Carrera, Johnson is looking forward to getting back on the floor.
“The biggest problem with transfer guys is they haven’t played in a competitive game in a long, long time,” Martin said. “At the beginning, they tend to play too fast, or put too much pressure on themselves to do certain things, and that will come. I have to be patient with them.”
As it stands, Johnson has the remainder of this season and next season before his eligibility is up.
Because he played nine minutes in an exhibition at Villanova last year before transferring, the NCAA views it as a full year of eligibility. He is appealing the ruling. Villanova has sent in paperwork and USC is in the process of compiling its own.
It doesn’t help that former Clemson player Donte Hill has been denied a year of eligibility at Old Dominion this year, because he played in a closed scrimmage for the Tigers before he transferred in 2011.
Still, Johnson has a year and three quarters worth of games before he has to have an answer. He plans to use it to make the Gamecocks as good as they can be, whether he’s starting or sitting behind a freshman.
“Be the voice on the court and off the court, I try not to think negative,” Johnson said. “I try to put my teammates in front of me. I just try to be that leader by talking, doing all the extra things, being an extra coach on the court.”
If USC somehow makes the SEC Championship Game, Ellington would be out through USC’s Dec. 6 game at Oklahoma State. If the Gamecocks don’t make it to the Championship game, Ellington could feasibly play against the Cowboys, and then set up the December schedule to coincide with USC’s bowl-game practice.
“What he’s done, now for his third consecutive year, in my mind, is mind-boggling,” Martin said. “That’s a special kid who’s willing to take on that burden. Whenever he’s ready to come, he knows he’s more than welcome.”