Keyontae Johnson was going through a preseason workout in mid-August with three other Kansas State teammates as he paused for a break with his hands on his knees. This was different than any other preseason he’s ever been through. All four players were wearing heart rate monitors and when Johnson would get tired, the coaches and athletic trainers would check his numbers as a precaution, compare his to the other three players also wearing heart rate monitors, and then it was back on the court.
“When Keyontae was getting back into game shape, he had to learn to distinguish the difference between his legs being tired, his lungs being tired as opposed to his heart,” head coach Jerome Tang told Yahoo Sports.
It had been 20 long months since Johnson’s last competitive basketball game. On Dec. 12, 2020, Johnson, a junior at Florida, was playing in a game against Florida State. This was Johnson’s year. He was the SEC preseason Player of the Year, averaging 16 points per game, shooting 43% from 3-point range and already getting first-round draft buzz from NBA scouts. Johnson had just converted on an alley-oop in transition that silenced the crowd in Tallahassee. A timeout was called and as Johnson was walking back on to the court, he collapsed face first and his whole life changed.
Johnson was rushed to the hospital and was in a coma for three days. His parents, Nika and Marrecus Johnson, never left his side.
“The first thing I remember waking up in the hospital is seeing my mom and she was holding my hand,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “I heard her talking and my vision was still blurry and she was the first thing I saw and then my dad walked in and just the look on both their faces, I knew something happened.”
It would be another week before Johnson was released from the hospital, but Florida head coach Mike White will never forget his team’s reaction when they were able to talk to Johnson over the phone for the first time.
“I was in the practice gym with his teammates and we were able to put Keyontae on a FaceTime call with them and they lost their minds,” White told Yahoo Sports. “It was like winning on a buzzer-beater, triple overtime. That was the energy in the gym when they first saw him.”
Johnson’s road back to the court would be long and require patience. It would also present him with a life-changing decision that involved turning down a $5 million insurance policy.