By all accounts, the Kansas State Wildcats are having a stellar season. Picked to finish last this year in the Big 12 at one point, they went unranked all the way to being the No. 11-ranked team in the nation, their first ranking since 2019. They even cracked the top five. Currently, they are ranked No. 14 in the nation and third in Big 12 play, and they are poised to make a big run in March.
Part of the success this season is due to senior forward Keyontae Johnson, who currently is garnering 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, both which lead the team. What's truly remarkable about Johnson, however, is that he is playing at all.
Keyontae Johnson's Triumphant Return to the Court
Johnson, who grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, bounced around high school ball. He originally played at Norview High School before transferring to premier basketball program IMG Academy and then transferring to Oak Hill Academy. 247sports ranked him as a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and ESPN had him among its top 10 recruits in the nation. He ended up picking Florida, where he would play three seasons.
On Dec. 12, 2020, the Florida Gators were playing in-state rival the Florida State Seminoles. After Johnson had slammed down an alley-oop, a timeout was called on the floor. Coming out of the timeout, Johnson walked back onto the floor and suddenly collapsed. His teammates realized something dire was happening and called for the medical team to assist Johnson. He was taken off the floor in a stretcher and transported to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma for three days.
It was originally determined that Johnson suffered from acute myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. But Johnson has since said he had "athlete's heart," which is an increase in cardiac mass due to heavy training. Regardless, Johnson might not have survived, let alone played basketball again, if it wasn't for the quick action of both the Florida and Florida State athletic trainers.
Johnson would not see competitive action again in a Florida Gators uniform. On Florida's Senior Day, he was announced as a ceremonial starter. He took a few dribbles after the opening tipoff before handing the ball back to the referee. He spent the rest of his time at Florida as a "coach."
In 2021, The Associated Press reported that Johnson had a $5 million insurance policy he could collect if he never played another game of college basketball. But that wasn't even a consideration for Johnson. "I never really considered stopping," he said. "Just the love of the game of basketball, it got me to where I'm at today."
After being medically cleared, Johnson announced he was entering the transfer portal. He chose Kansas State for his final year of college basketball.
It's truly remarkable that Keyontae Johnson is playing competitive basketball again. Just over two years ago, he was fighting for his life. Now he's on the watch list for the John R. Wooden Award, given to the best player in college basketball. He's being scouted as potential second-round NBA Draft pick.
Thanks to the medical staffers who attended to him, Johnson has a second chance at life. Right now, that consists of what he and the rest of the Kansas State community hope to be a late run through March and into early April.
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