Florida forward Keyontae Johnson caught the tipoff, dribbled the ball around for a few seconds, then handed it back to the official before kissing the midcourt logo on Saturday.
He then walked off the court to a standing ovation and hugs from teammates, coaches, opposing players and opposing coaches. It wasn’t the senior day he envisioned when he arrived at Florida, but the fact that he was able to be there for his senior day is somewhat of a miracle.
A little over a year ago, Johnson collapsed in a Dec. 12, 2020, game at Florida State right after a timeout. He hasn’t practiced or played since.
“I wanted to stay out there a little bit longer, but had to get off,” Johnson told reporters Saturday.
A moment to be remembered forever 🧡💙
— Florida Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) March 5, 2022
He stayed on the floor for about 10 seconds and logged his first official playing time since the incident, before the two teams tipped the ball off again.
“This is a day you’ll never forget,” Johnson said.
Throughout his recovery process, Johnson has proclaimed his faith in God and how it got him through what he called a life-threatening episode. He ultimately spent 10 days in hospitals before being released shortly before Christmas.
On the one-year anniversary of the incident, he wrote on Instagram about how God had answered the prayers that so many had lifted up for him.
“1 year ago today my heart shattered into a million pieces before the whole world to see,” Johnson wrote. “You all prayed for me & God answered those prayers by sparing my life. For 12 months I have found a new level of Faith and I know for sure that I am walking in God’s favor! My steps are ordered by God and I’m writing my own story! I think ill call this chapter ‘The Rebirth.’ Thanks for tuning in.”
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Johnson, who was the preseason player of the year pick in the Southeastern Conference prior to last season, was one of seven seniors honored on Saturday. On hand for his celebration were his parents, grandparents, daughter and the Tallahassee doctor who Johnson said “saved my life.”
Prior to the incident, he was a projected lottery pick for the 2021 NBA Draft. Despite having not played for more than a year, he’s not giving up on his professional dreams. He plans to turn pro after this season and get medically cleared to work out for NBA teams.
He told reporters on Saturday that he doesn’t know what his next step is, but throughout this process he said he’s tried to maintain a positive attitude. For his entire basketball career, he’s been one of the best players on the floor and the guy who his teammates relied on to lead them to a win. He’s had to trade his jersey for street clothes and his jump shot for a clipboard.
“Coach Key,” as he’s become known, has found a new way to lead.
“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 last year. “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.”
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