From the Valley to South Beach: Tyler Johnson strikes fire with Miami Heat

Former Bulldog Tyler Johnson goes up against a Colorado State defender. (Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)
Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson goes to the basket against Charlotte Hornets guard Aaron Harrison, left, during the fourth quarter on Sunday, May 1, 2016, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson goes to the basket against Charlotte Hornets guard Aaron Harrison, left, during the fourth quarter on Sunday, May 1, 2016, at American Airlines Arena in Miami. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

Tyler Johnson played for Fresno State from 2010-14. He started 87 of 127 games. Johnson per game averaged 10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals. He finished his time at Fresno State ranked No. 16 on the all-time scoring list with 1,346 points.

Johnson has become one of the most intriguing players in the NBA. As an undrafted player, night in and night out Johnson had to prove to the league that he was ready for the next level. After some time in the D-League (NBA Developmental League), he was called up by the Miami Heat and has not looked back since.

Johnson’s contract was one of the most talked about deals this summer. The Brooklyn Nets offered a four-year $50 million contract, which led to the Miami Heat matching the offer and ultimately re-signing him. With the departure of Dwyane Wade from Miami to Chicago and the uncertainty of Chris Bosh’s playing future, Johnson will be looked upon to perform at a high level every night.


On his journey to the NBA: After I graduated, I went to summer league. I ended up making the summer league team for the Heat. And from there I was invited to go to training camp. I was one of the last two cuts from making the final roster that year, which was two years ago. I ended up going to the Heat’s affiliate team down in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the D-League. I ended up playing there for four months, and then I was called up. I didn’t really get a chance to play in my first call-up. They sent me back down for two or three games and then I ended up getting called up again, and that’s when I kind of stuck and ended up staying with the team.

On being called up: It was everything I thought it would be. It was a proud moment for not only myself, but for the people who are around me to support me. I had a baby when I was in college with my now-fiancee, Ashley, and we were able to go through all those things together along with my mother and my siblings. I was happier because I was able to make them proud.

On playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh: I’m blessed. A lot of people who come into the league don’t get the opportunity to play with who you would consider a Hall-of-Famer. It was an honor to be able to play with Dwyane. Chris, as we get closer, we’ll see when he comes back. It’s definitely an honor when you get to play next to a Hall-of-Famer.

On his new deal: It was overwhelming. I kind of got sick to my stomach just hearing that number and knowing that I was able to be in a position to take care of my family the way I wanted to. It was just an overwhelming experience. I’m blessed to be able to go through it, but I’m glad that whole process is behind me and now I can look forward on just playing basketball.

On potential role change now that Wade has moved on from Miami: My role is definitely going to increase. I think, for me, to continue doing what I’m doing. When I was healthy, whether it be making shots or running the point and getting everybody organized, as well as being a defender on the perimeter. I think I’ve just got to be able to continue the same role I was in but for longer periods of time.

On Paul George: We’ve talked a couple times. He hit me up and told me congratulations on the deal. Every time we play Indiana, we talk a little bit. He was definitely somebody I looked up to coming out of school because of the success he was able to have. It’s very humbling to have somebody who came before you to show you what route to take.

On coach Rodney Terry and watching Fresno State return to the NCAA Tournament: I was excited. I wasn’t able to watch but I remember keeping up with the gamecasts when they played San Diego State in the championship for the Mountain West. I still talk to guys like Cezar (Guerrero) and Marvelle (Harris), Paul (Watson), Karachi (Edo), Juice (Julien Lewis) when he was there. I definitely follow them closely. I called coach Byron Jones and Johnny Olguin and Terry whenever I had the chance. I was able to follow them closely.

Advice to Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis: Just stay with it. I was knocked down. I remember when I was first cut from the Heat training camp roster. You just have to stay with it because you never know what kind of opportunity is going to present itself. It’s better to be ready and never get the opportunity, than to get the opportunity and not be ready.

On representing Fresno State and being a Bulldog: You think of the tradition that they’ve had there back in the days of ‘Tark’ (Jerry Tarkanian) and Boyd Grant and them, and even Steve Cleveland. Everybody who talks about Fresno State basketball talks about those days and all the great players who came before us. It means a lot to be able to wear that jersey, and I’m glad that it’s starting to find its way back on the national map.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra

“Tyler, how I describe him is, he’s a winner who finds a way to win. He makes you watch him. He makes you play him. He makes you re-sign him. He’s a force of nature out there. He doesn’t do everything perfectly by the script, that’s what I love about Tyler. He finds a way. He’s got an incredible work ethic. I think that’s why the Heat fan base loves Tyler so much. And they should. He’s reflective of the work ethic of this community.

He puts in the time. He’s tireless with his work ethic. He’s coachable. He has a great desire to get better, and he’s turned himself into a heck of a pro. But again, with Tyler, I’m not going to put a ceiling on him. Because of his competitiveness, because of his work ethic, his commitment to want to be great, who knows where he can be this year?”

Fresno State basketball head coach Rodney Terry

“TJ is a wonderful ambassador for our Fresno State basketball program. His hard work has paid off. He takes great pride in being the best teammate that he can be and carries himself the right way. Tyler was always the first guy in the gym and the last to leave. He led by example. I’m thrilled for Tyler, as well as his family. I am very proud of all that he has accomplished, so far.”

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