Dressed with success: USC student-athletes salute their standout performances

dcloninger@thestate.comApril 28, 2014 

Ty Johnson walked into Colonial Life Arena with the air of a veteran on Monday. Despite one season on the South Carolina men’s basketball team – which was held to half a season, due to a broken foot – Johnson strolled knowing that as the team’s only senior and starting point guard, he would own this building next year.

He’s hoping he can handle the ball better than he can tying his bow tie.

“It took me about, probably over 100 attempts to get my bow tie fixed,” Johnson said. “I never wore a bowtie, so I wanted to try something new. But I didn’t know how to tie it.”

After several futile attempts, including from women’s basketball star Aleighsa Welch, who wore her own bow tie, Johnson gave up and went for a regular necktie under his yellow sweater. He still looked snazzy, as the rest of USC’s athletes did at the annual Gamecock Gala, but didn’t quite have that standout presence.

That was all right. The basketball teams held their own at the ceremony.

USC recognized its team MVPs across all sports on Monday, also handing out individual accomplishments for academics and community service. Rising basketball sophomores Sindarius Thornwell and Alaina Coates were named the school’s new students of the year, while Bruce Ellington (three games of basketball this season) split the Male Athlete of the Year Award with baseball’s Grayson Greiner.

The night’s biggest prize went to track and field standout Jeannelle Scheper. She was honored with the President’s Award, the highest honor any athlete can receive, in recognition of a phenomenal career and senior season. Scheper won the program’s first SEC high jump championship and won two NCAA indoor silver medals, finishing as USC’s first All-American in the event.

Everybody was recognized as a contributor to one of the best overall athletic seasons in USC history, culminating with five squads in the national Top 10. Athletics director Ray Tanner asked all seniors to stand and applaud themselves, calling them “a group that is unprecedented that has accomplished so much while you were here.”

President Harris Pastides also thanked the athletes in attendance, crediting them for more than 1 million fans attending USC events during the past school year.

“Athletics is the door to the university,” Pastides said before requiring two final acts of everyone. “The first is that we work hard, those of you returning, to make next year an even better year. I know we can do that. The second is to sing the alma mater.”

The crowd joined in the school’s song as Johnson exited with his necktie still knotted. The bow tie will wait for another day.

“I asked one of the football coaches to try and get it on, and they couldn’t, so I just went with the regular tie,” he grinned.

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