Keyontae Johnson’s status undetermined, but Florida star hopes to return to court this summer

By Adam Silverstein
February 16, 2021
Keyontae Johnson’s status undetermined, but Florida star hopes to return to court this summer

Image Credit: Alex de la Osa / UAA

Florida Gators star junior forward Keyontae Johnson wants to play basketball again. When he will be able to, or whether he will be cleared to do so at all, remains up in the air.

Johnson, who suddenly collapsed on the court while playing at Florida State two months ago, was ruled out for the remainder of the 2020-21 season on Feb. 3. After spending 10 days in the hospital, he underwent a battery of tests to determine the cause of his medical emergency, but no specific determination has been made — or at least made public — at this time.

Though he has spent the last few weeks with Florida as a coach on the sidelines during games, Johnson hopes that he will be able to continue his playing career at some point in the future.

“I do,” Johnson told the Gators’ school website when asked during a question-and-answer session whether he believes he’ll play basketball again. “Right now, until the doctors say other otherwise, I’m going to stick with the positive mindset that I’m playing again. Some time. Yes, I do.”

The SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Johnson completed an alley-oop dunk ahead of a media timeout during the FSU game on Dec. 12. Suddenly, he fell face-first and laid unconscious on the court while walking to the top of the arc after breaking the huddle.

After spending two days in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in critical but stable condition, he was transferred to UF Health where his status consistently improved until he was awoken from a medically induced coma and released days later. Florida canceled four games as the team focused on Johnson’s recovery.

Though he said he’s found some fulfillment coaching up his teammates, it’s clear Johnson wants to get back on the court. He hopes to have an answer about whether he will be able to do so over the next few months.

“Hopefully this summer,” Johnson said of a potential return date. “But I’m still taking tests and going to be taking a lot more tests. I’ll have to get on a treadmill eventually and be connected to things. MRIs, EKGs, stress tests, all that, to find out what caused this. I’m going to the doctor every two weeks.”

In the weeks following his collapse, outsiders wondered whether Johnson’s medical incident was caused or exasperated due myocarditis, a symptom seen in many patients who recover from viruses like COVID-19. However, various medical experts have since ruled out COVID-19 as a cause of his collapse.

If Johnson is able to return to the court as everyone hopes, he is not sure what form such a comeback would take.

“I haven’t actually thought about it yet or talked to my parents about it. I like it a lot [at Florida],” he said. “I feel like I’ve really developed here under the coaching staff. I look at myself from freshman year to where I was and that was a big jump. But I haven’t thought about that yet.”

Johnson was poised to turn pro after the season as a likely first-round selection in the 2021 NBA Draft. However, coupling his medical incident with the fact that he was only able to play three full games, it’s likely that teams would be apprehensive utilizing top-tier draft capital to acquire his services. Therefore, a return to the Gators or another college program — perhaps one with renowned cardiovascular specialists at a nearby who would be able to constantly monitor him in his attempted return to play — may be Johnson’s best bet if he is ultimately cleared to play.

No matter how Johnson’s situation develops, the fact that he’s out of the woods and able to put his situation into perspective remains the best news that has come from this ordeal.

“I would say I’m blessed to be here, yes,” he said. “I was passed out. I could have died. She [a cardiologist sitting courtside in Tallahassee] 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.”

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