One could hear the noise of a bouncing basketball in the dark of lonely Colonial Life Arena, as the night settled outside. The thumps of the ball on the hardwood were broken only by the soft rustle of it going through the net.
“I was out and I couldn’t do too much jumping or dribbling on my foot, so what I would do was sit in a chair in front of the basket and work on my form, my repetition,” senior guard Ty Johnson said. “Once I was able to go get on the court and be able to move, it was adding the movement to my repetition.”
Johnson wasn’t directed to sit there in the evenings, working on his jump shot without the benefit of his legs. He wasn’t told that being South Carolina’s only senior, and point guard to boot, heaped responsibility on responsibility and that he simply had to accept it.
He did it because he knew, since the buzzer sounded at the end of a nifty run in the SEC tournament, that the Gamecocks can win in 2014-15. And after watching the team – his team – struggle without him when he was lost for the year with a broken foot three games into the SEC schedule, Johnson was going to do everything he could to make sure this year, his last, would be one to fondly remember.
“I have a bitter taste in my mouth from the losses we had,” he said. “This is my last go-round. I don’t want anybody to look back and say, ‘Ty’s senior year was a bad year, there was no leadership, there was nobody to take us forward.’”
As the season dawns, Johnson’s foot is 100 percent and he is firmly entrenched at point guard. With shooters Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice around him, and Michael Carrera hoping to re-establish his freshman-year form with a return to his natural power forward spot, the Gamecocks have four high-scoring options.
They also return all but three of the players who experienced USC’s fifth consecutive losing season in 2013-14. Despite 20 losses, the Gamecocks won four of their final six games, including beating national runner-up Kentucky and winning two SEC tournament games for the first time since 2005-06.
USC has never had six straight losing seasons. Johnson doesn’t want to leave as the only senior on the team that sounded that sour note.
“I’m the guy that makes the offense go, the extension of the coach,” Johnson said. “Me and Frank always have talks about leadership and if you want people to follow, you have to take the lead. You can’t have guys look up to you if you’re in the background.”
Johnson returned to playing during a summer trip to Europe for the Four Nations Cup, along with Thornwell and Martin. The rust quickly vanished, Johnson’s confidence also returned and the jumper that he cultivated through those long sessions in the chair was sizzling.
“Ty, just watching him get out there and play, he made shots,” Martin said. “I’m not talking about layups, he made shots, which was something he was always hesitant to do when he got here.”
“Frank said, ‘That shot can keep you in this game and playing for a long time,’ ” Johnson said. “I’m not going to say that was one of my weaknesses, but I wasn’t as confident as I was before.”
That shot and the return of All-SEC Freshman Thornwell, plus a redefined Notice after he dropped 16 pounds and had a magnificent summer at the S.C. Pro-Am, has the Gamecocks feeling good. The memory of March, when they played their best basketball, has carried to October.
Johnson, who wanted so badly to be on the court in March, might be who feels it the most.
“Those two guys and myself, they know what coach Frank wants and they’ve played with him for a year,” Johnson said. “I expect us to do big things.”