Keyontae Johnson knew this basketball season would look a little different. He just didn’t know how different it would be for him personally.
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A projected first-round NBA draft pick and the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Johnson’s season came to an end after he collapsed during a timeout in a Dec. 12 game at Florida State. Though doctors were able to determine the cause of the collapse was not related to COVID-19, as he tested positive in the summer, no official cause has been given.
Johnson is used to leading his team and being “the guy” on the court. He’s now having to adjust to doing that from the sidelines. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s choosing to look at it through the most optimistic lens he can.
“Basically, everything happens for a reason and you’re always going to see the dark side before things get brighter,” he told University of Florida writer Chris Harry earlier this week. “To me, I can’t dwell on the situation. It happened. Me having a negative mindset can only mess me up in the future. So I’m trying to have a positive mindset and make sure everybody sees me happy. I’m a big leader on this team.
“If they see me down they’re going to think something is wrong and may cause us to struggle again. So I’m just trying to bring great energy, show everybody I’m smiling, that I’m fine, and just want the best out of these guys.”
To Be Continued… pic.twitter.com/bqFWdZ5Vff
— Keyontae (@Keyontae) February 4, 2021
Johnson had just dunked the ball on an alley-oop when he collapsed near midcourt in the first half of the game. He was rushed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, then later was transferred to UF Health, where he remained in critical, but stable, condition for parts of the week. At one point he was placed in a medically-induced coma.
Fortunately, a cardiologist was sitting courtside and rushed to help Johnson. Otherwise, Johnson’s fate may have been much different.
“I would say I’m blessed to be here, yes. There’s just not a lot more to say than that,” Johnson said. “I was passed out. I could have died. She jumped out on the court and saved me. If it isn’t for her, I may not have had a second chance in life. You just can’t take life for granted.”
A week later, Johnson released a video from the hospital where he thanked God, and thanked his supporters for praying for him.
“Write your own story” God said my work here ain’t done 💙🤞🏽 pic.twitter.com/hJHlBIJmdg
— Keyontae (@Keyontae) December 18, 2020
It was a scary time for him, and the program. Florida canceled its next several games as it dealt with what happened to their star player.
At times it’s still hard for Johnson to talk about that day. He remembers the surrounding events, but when he finally woke up following the collapse, he said he thought he was dreaming. He remembers his mom crying — tears of fear that eventually became tears of joy.
“The (doctor) said, ‘Who is that talking?’ I had a tube in my mouth, but I could say, ‘My mom.’” he said. “Then I saw my mom smiling and crying at the same time. Tears of joy. Smiling and crying. Then I think I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up Coach (Mike) White and Coach Nice (assistant Darris Nichols) were there. They were smiling.”
Johnson’s dad was there as well, and he was trying to keep the mood light. There was plenty of fear in the room for a while.
“I was definitely scared,” Johnson said. “I had just woken up. I was confused and wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. My grandmother was there in the room praying for me. We all prayed together and left it in God’s hands.”
Doctors told him he could not play basketball the rest of this season out of precaution, but they’ve not ruled out a potential return. Safety and health are taking priority.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for someone with a promising pro career ahead of him, but he’s relied on strength from God to get through this season. He says the positivity stems from himself, but he’s had plenty of people pouring into his life, especially since the incident.
“I’d say it’s both. It’s basically me. I’m usually more to myself,” he said. “When things go bad, I’ll sit in a room and think about it. It’s more about listening to my parents or Coach Nice and, just like Coach White says: ‘Next play.’ You can’t lay on the situation.”
He knows this is much bigger than the “next play,” but that’s the mentality he’s taking. Like he did in that hospital room, he’s leaving the rest up to God.
“It happened,” he said. “Eventually I hope to get back out there, so I’m going to keep praying and keep it all in God’s hands.”
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