Tyrone Johnson overcame some uncertainty, injury and some emotional ups and downs in his college basketball career, but with his degree now in hand, he feels good about his efforts and his choice to help build the Gamecock program under head coach Frank Martin.
"No regrets," Johnson said. "I look at this as something that was a good stepping stone. I was able to leave my mark in trying to turn things around, and being one of the guys to show younger guys how to work hard. We fell a little short of our goals including making the NCAA Tournament, but we did taste some success and had the first winning season in six years. We grew, and some of those younger guys now know what it takes to win."
Originally from Plainfield, New Jersey, Johnson transferred to South Carolina after two years at Villanova. He suffered an injury early in his career at Villanova that shelved him for a while, and then a broken foot in January of 2014 sidelined him for the remainder of the year in his first season with the Gamecocks. He never gave up and started every game for South Carolina during the 2014-15 season.
"There was a lot of adversity that I had to face during my college career," Johnson said. "It was great to be injury free and be out there for every game this year. I always pushed myself and set goals for myself. I tried to be a leader as best as I could on and off the court. I wanted to be a role model for my teammates and the entire program. I learned a lot since I've been here. I know there is still a lot of basketball for me to play somewhere, whether it's in the NBA, the developmental league or overseas."
Johnson is hoping to set up some workouts through his agent for NBA teams to evaluate where his next stop in basketball will be. He enjoyed a good relationship with head coach Frank Martin, which helped him develop on and off the basketball floor.
"Frank is someone I can always be honest with," Johnson said. "He was honest with me as well. He pushed me to do well and taught me how to be a better man. That was the important thing. He showed me that every day in life, whether you're in the classroom or you're doing something off the court, you never know who is watching, so you need to do it right. If you have a bad day on the court or off, you have to come back the next day and show that you want to get better."
That honesty was something that impressed Johnson before he ever suited up for the Gamecocks.
"When you come in on a visit, he's a straight up guy," Johnson said. "He's going to tell you his vision of the program, and how you can play a part in that. He promises that he will be the best coach and mentor that he can possibly be for you. He will teach you how to be a better man and will help you become a better player. Some coaches at other programs do it differently, but I can say that everything he preached to me on my visit is everything I have received since I've been here. You have to be willing to come in and work hard because it's not going to be easy. If you do work hard, it will get easier."
The hard work appeared to be paying off early in the season when the Gamecocks rattled off seven straight wins, capped by a victory over No. 9 Iowa State on January 3 prior to opening up SEC play. South Carolina would stumble to a 1-6 start in the league before going 7-7 down the stretch, which included two wins in the SEC Tournament.
"I think the difference was that we just hit a mark where we went cold," Johnson said. "I look back and there were games that we could have won, and if you get three of those to go as wins then we're a 20-13 team and playing in the postseason. You have to credit the other teams that capitalized on our mistakes, but you live and you learn. We had to get back to doing things that made us successful. We started to get our momentum back, and I felt like we ended the season on a good note."
Looking back at his time in Columbia, Johnson said he thinks the basketball program is in better shape now than when he first arrived on campus.
"You can see it in just the mentality of the guys wanting to get after each other in practice," Johnson said. "The guys really want to compete and get better. Frank has a plan, and he has a way of playing the game. He's got it going in the right direction. He makes his mark on the community as well. That's important."
As he leaves campus, Johnson hopes that future Gamecocks will buy-in to what their coaches preach to help take the program to the next level.
"My advice to kids coming in is that this isn't high school," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter if you were an All-American or an all-conference player in high school. This is a different game. The speed, the strength, and the ability level of everybody at this level is really good. You need to come in with a clear mind, and you have to be willing to listen, compete and get better. Everyone at this level is good, so you have to ask, what are you going to do to get better? Come in ready to learn from Coach Martin and what he's preaching."
For all of his work on the basketball floor, Johnson is extremely proud to be walking away with his degree in hand.
"Everyone has a goal, and to get a degree was one of mine," Johnson said. "I took that seriously. Coming from kind of a rough neighborhood, I want to know that I can be a role model not just in the South Carolina community, but also back home. Getting a degree means a lot to me, but it also means a lot to my mom and my whole family. My mom always told me that basketball could take me a long way, but that a degree can take you a lot further because you never know when you're time will be up and you have to put the basketball down."
Whenever that day does come, Johnson hopes to own his own business, but he knows it will take a lot of the same lessons he learned as a Gamecock to get there.
"I've always wanted to own my own sports complex or even something like a housing complex," Johnson said. "Something for the community where I can come in and train young kids would be great. I have a few other ideas. I'd like to be my own boss, but I know it will take a lot of hard work and dedication to do it."