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October 10, 2013
The last time Michael Carrera and Ty Johnson were on the court together, they led Montrose (Md.) Christian High School to a national high school champsiuonship over Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.
Now, finally reunited as two of the pillars around which coach Frank Martin is rebuilding the South Carolina program, Johnson says he can't wait to play together again and compete for the same high goals the duo achieved the last time they wore the same jersey. For Johnson, who was able to practice with the team last year but not play while he sat out the required year after transferring from Villanova, watching the team struggle last season was difficult. Now able to contribute, Johnson knows in a sense he's starting all over again.
"Me and Mike were teammates in high school and won a national championship together, but I had to come in and earn Mike's respect," Johnson said. "Mike was here before I was. But I came in willing to listen, willing to bring energy, and Mike's fed off of me. Mike said, 'this guy is here to win. He's not here to be negative or to do anything by himself.
"Mike already knows that wow, we have a junior leader at the point guard spot and I can feed off him again."
What advice does Johnson give Carrera having played with him longer than anyone?
"I tell Mike to be Mike," Johnson said. "Not in a negative way, but in a positive way."
Johnson, who expects to be eligible Dec. 17 against Manhattan in the season's seventh game, also may get an extra year of eligibility. Before deciding to transfer as a sophomore, he played nine minutes in one exhibition game his sophomore year at Villanova, going scoreless with two rebounds and two assists, and earlier this week Martin said he's optimistic the process will work out in Johnson's favor.
If it does, it'll mean Johnosn has three more years in Columbia. Martin cautioned patience, however, for Johnson as he does with all transfers for one simple reason.
"Here's the biggest problem with transfer guys," Martin said. "They haven't played in a competitive game in a long, long time. We went through this with Deni Clemente and Curtis Kelly at K-State. I use them because they're the two guys I've had as a head coach who were transfers.
"They haven't played in a competitive game, so at the beginning they tend to play too fast or put too much pressure on themselves to do certain things. That'll come. I have to be patient with them, and they have to be willing to allow the game to come, and all that evolves.
Ty has to be able to keep his mind on what we ask him to do. And the thing that's hard for him this semester is that he has to be a leader, and yet he doesn't get to play for five, six games, whatever it is. When I say he has to be a leader it doesn't mean he has to be the leader of the team, it means he has to perform in practice every day a certain way so those young kids understand how upperclassmen do their job. And he's doing it after not playing for over a year. By the time Ty plays for us, it's almost two years since he played his last college game, so that's a long layoff."
Martin admitted he wasn't able to pay Johnson the kind of attention he'd liked to have last season simply because he had more pressing issues.
"Last year as a transfer student, he shows up in January, we're right in the middle of conference play," Martin said. "It's hard for me to break stuff down and teach the stuff that we were doing in October and November and December, so he was just kind of a practice player playing the point guard on everyone else's team.
"Now, since that season ended, we've started to train and teach him more stuff. I spend a lot of time talking with Ty."
And that time has been paying off for a humble and hungry Martin.
"I always say to myself that everything happens for a reason, and I'm blessed to have another opportunity to play D1 college basketball and play under coach Martin," Johnson said. "I try to bring myself to the highest level I can play at and lead. I'm waiting for the day to come, and for right now I'm working hard for that.
I try to come in and do whatever the coaches ask me to do. I try to be the voice on the court and off the court. I try not to think negatively but think positively and not put myself in front but put my teammates in front. I try to be that leader by talking, doing all the extra things, listening to coach (Martin), being an extra coach on the court. I'm just trying to be the best coach I can be."
Part of Johnson's role is imparting his experience and toughness to the seven freshmen, four of whom are guards, going through collegiate practices for the first time.
"It's been challenging to take on that leadership role with the younger guards," Johnson said. "There are certain things I'd like to say nut I have to be patient. But I can't be too patient, because the first five or six games I'm going to be out.
"So to be that extra leader, I have to let them know that this isn't high school anymore, this is college. Everything is going to be at a faster pace. Coach is going to be on you, so you have to listen and try to do everything the right way. You might be wrong, you might be right, but you need to be willing to learn."
And being willing to learn is precisely what Johnson himself intends to do, whatever his role may be.
"If they need me to play multiple minutes at he point guard, I'll play point guard," Johnson said. "If they need me to play the two, I'll play the two. I'm not saying 'this is my job' or being cocky about anything. I'm just being very humble. I'm here for my teammates as well. I'm not just here for myself. I'll do whatever the coaches want me to do the best I can."
If he does, he'll find that there's plenty of room in the Colonial Life Arena to hang the kind of championship banners he and Carrera won at Montrose Christian.
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