The status of Florida senior forward Keyontae Johnson remains unchanged, and he has yet to be medically cleared to return to basketball activities following his frightening collapse on the court four games into last season, Gators men’s basketball coach Mike White said Tuesday.
“No change in status. Has not been cleared to this point, but he’s very much a big part of what we’re doing,” White said following the conclusion of UF’s first preseason practice session of the 2021-22 campaign. “He was down there today (at practice). He’s really good.”
Following his collapse, Johnson spent two days in a Tallahassee hospital before returning to Gainesville, where he spent eight more days at UF Health. He eventually returned to the sideline nearly a month later, albeit in a “student-assistant coach” role with the Gators.
His return may still be unknown — Johnson’s family has yet to reveal details surrounding his collapse, preferring to keep the information private — but the 6-foot-5 Johnson, who averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds during his breakout sophomore season at UF, continues to be hands-on in Florida’s practice sessions, White said.
“He’s a big-time Gator. He’s a Gator great in my mind,” White said of Johnson. “He’s in my ear a bunch with certain drills or certain things he notices. We lost a team free-throw shooting competition and he said, ‘Coach, I think we need to up the ante here and double down and we turn this 22 into a 44, let’s run it back.’ I said, ‘That’s a great point, let’s do it.’ He’s got a good pulse as to what’s going on with these guys.”
UF ultimately overcame the absence of Johnson, the SEC’s preseason player of the year entering 2020-21 and a potential first-round NBA draft pick, on the court last season and made the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators would see their season end in a second-round upset to No. 15-seed Oral Roberts, though White reiterated Tuesday the season wasn’t defined by how it ended.
“I can’t imagine anyone really understands what this group went through last year and what Keyontae and his family went through. Very, very unique year. It was a very difficult year, demanding year, taxing year, long year, you name it. But the resilience these young men showed was incredible,” White said.
“Everyone can evaluate this program however they want to evaluate it. I know as a staff how we felt about it. And I know, again, how difficult it was. And what these guys had to endure. It was incredibly difficult. And now, do we like losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament? No. Well, a lot of teams didn’t get to the NCAA Tournament, and didn’t advance. Are we happy with going home after round two? Absolutely not. That said, we overcame a lot, and I feel the same exact way about it as I did two, three, four months ago. We just have to keep getting better, of course.”
The Gators hope they have gotten better in the offseason after adding four experienced transfers to go along with three freshmen, although only one of the signees, Kowacie Reeves Jr., is expected to contribute this season.
White has had to continue roster-building with his former star player’s return uncertain — the only expectation UF’s head coach has for Johnson is he “continues to stay ready for whatever’s ahead of him” as his ongoing recovery progresses.
For now, he’s “Coach Key.”
“That he’s happy and healthy. That he continues to be the awesome young man that he is, continues to stay ready for whatever’s ahead for him, continues to be a great person,” White said, “a great teammate, (and) an extension of our staff, of course.”