GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida forward Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed during a game in December 2020 and hasn’t practiced or played since, got a ceremonial start on senior day against No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday.
Johnson was on the floor for the first of two opening tips, got the basketball from teammate Colin Castleton and took a few dribbles before handing it to an official. He then hugged starters on both teams, did a pushup at midcourt and kissed the giant Gators logo — all while receiving a standing ovation.
After acknowledging the fans, Johnson shook hands with Kentucky coach John Calipari before heading back to the Florida bench to embrace coach Mike White and the rest of the Florida coaching staff and players.
Johnson was one of seven Florida seniors honored about 10 minutes before the game. He had his parents and his young daughter on hand for the ceremony. He quickly changed from jeans and a T-shirt into his No. 11 uniform and was on the floor for layup lines. He had his cellphone tucked into his shorts for the first one, a clear sign of just how long it’s been since he’s taken part in a game.
The 22-year-old senior from Norfolk, Virginia, is expected to turn pro and try to get medically cleared to work out for NBA teams before the draft. He also has a $5 million insurance policy that would pay out if he never plays pro ball.
Johnson’s policy went into effect in July 2020, five months before he crashed face-first onto the court at Florida State. He has taken on the role of “Coach Key” ever since.
The Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year in 2020 turned his attention toward pursuing a potential NBA career. He needs medical clearance — something that hasn’t happened in the 15 months since his collapse — and then to pass any number of tests before being allowed to attend this year’s NBA combine and/or privately work out for teams.
Johnson’s policy provides him enough flexibility to take steps toward playing professionally and still be able to reverse course and make an insurance claim. If he does trigger the insurance policy that Florida paid the premiums on, there’s an option for him to take the $5 million as a lump sum. There’s no timetable or deadline for Johnson to make a decision on his future.
Johnson has spent most of the past two seasons cheering on teammates from the bench as he remains enrolled in school and on scholarship. He is scheduled to graduate next month.
The Gators say they would love to have him on the floor, but they also want to protect him and help him make the best choices for his long-term health and his financial future.
He averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds as a sophomore in 2019-20 and shot 54% from the field while averaging 31.3 minutes. He was expected to be even better as a junior last season, but instead instantly became a trauma patient on Dec. 12. He crumpled to the court seconds after breaking a team huddle in the fourth game of the COVID-19-delayed season.
Johnson received emergency medical attention in front of horrified teammates, opponents and fans before getting rushed to a Tallahassee hospital. He spent 10 nights in hospitals and returned home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. He was on hand for Florida’s first practice following a two-week hiatus.
Johnson’s parents said last year their son’s collapse was not related to a previous positive COVID-19 test, citing a consultation team that included experts from four highly respected schools of medicine. The family has not said what doctors believe caused the episode.
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