Keyontae Johnson went 23 months without playing in a college basketball game. For most of that time, he was limited to less stressful activities like stationary shooting.
When he returned to the court this season, now with Kansas State, it was almost as if the last two years hadn’t happened. Johnson shot 50% or better from the field in nine of the Wildcats’ first 11 games, scoring at least 12 points in all of them.
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He is second in the Big 12 in scoring at 17.6 points per game and one of 10 players in the running for the Julius Erving Award as the country’s top small forward. Kansas State is 22-7 following Saturday’s 73-68 victory over Oklahoma State and moved up three spots to No. 11 in Monday’s Associated Press poll.
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“We just played together, really just believed in one another, just try to go out there and have fun,” Johnson said after the Oklahoma State game. “We’ve only got a few games left as seniors, and we’re just trying to go out there and just get a win.”
What happened on Dec. 12, 2020, is never far from Johnson’s mind though. While playing for the University of Florida in a game against Florida State, he collapsed coming out of a timeout. The SEC Preseason Player of the Year and possible first-round pick was simply thankful to be alive and unsure if he’d ever be able to play basketball again.
The closest he got was being honored at Florida’s Senior Day last March. He was never cleared to play by Florida’s medical staff and sought the opinion of other doctors to see if a return to the court was possible. After a sexual assault case against him was dropped in July, Johnson committed to Kansas State in August and was medically cleared.
The Norfolk, Virginia, native was quick to praise God and reference his faith following his collapse and also did so after making his Kansas State debut in the team’s season opener.
“I’m feeling good, just thanking God every day for giving me the opportunity to get here and play again, just staying patient,” Johnson said. “Before the game, I was a little emotional, but I knew the game was going to go so I had to keep going, just play and lay everything out for my team.”
On the two-year anniversary of what Johnson refers to as his “Rebirth Day,” he posted a video on Instagram reflecting on the past 12 months. His gratitude to God features prominently in the video, which includes messages from ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Johnson’s mother, among other people.
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Johnson told Stadium’s Jeff Goodman during an interview in January he thinks the best way he can show his gratefulness to God is to make prayer and thankfulness part of his daily routine.
“Every day I think about it. I wake up, thank God for just giving me the opportunity,” he said. “Before I get on the court, I just pray for a healthy season, keep just putting my faith in God. I mean, He got me through my situation. I feel like the best I can do is just keep praying and thank Him every day.”
Stadium Exclusive Interview: @GoodmanHoops sits down with @KStateMBB forward Keyontae Johnson to share his road back to the court after collapsing in a game at Florida in 2020. pic.twitter.com/xo1BMxqgOv
— Stadium (@Stadium) January 24, 2023
With two regular-season games remaining, the Wildcats are tied for third in the Big 12 at 10-6 in conference play and on track to earn a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history. They host Oklahoma on Wednesday and travel to West Virginia on Saturday.
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– Jerome Tang sees early success at Kansas State: ‘It’s a testament to God’s faithfulness’