Keyontae Johnson has new role with Gators as he continues recovery from scary collapse

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Florida star forward Keyontae Johnson is back in the basketball program’s practice facility as he continues to recover, UF coach Mike White said Monday while speaking to the media for the first time since Johnson’s collapse Dec. 12. 

“Keyontae Johnson is back with us and doing well,” White said on the SEC’s weekly teleconference. “He was at practice this morning and yesterday afternoon. He’s in good spirits, he’s helping us coach. He actually blew a whistle yesterday.” 

Johnson was released from the hospital Dec. 21, a week after collapsing against FSU. The Gators practiced Sunday for the first time in 15 days and have had two practices since as they prepare to open conference play Wednesday at Vanderbilt.

Raiquan Gray (1) and Cleveland Yates (34) of Florida State and Colin Castleton (12) of Florida battle under the basket during their game Dec. 12 in Tallahassee.

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White said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of Johnson’s medical situation, saying any further announcements will come from Johnson’s family. The Gainesville Sun’s Zach Abolverdi reported Johnson was diagnosed with acute myocarditis after undergoing a cardiac MRI. 

“There’s not a lot I can say about Keyontae from a medical standpoint. His past, current and future medical condition, because of privacy laws and incomplete information on my end, and most importantly because it’s not my role in this process, his medical team and his family are leading that front,” White said, “so any decisions, any announcements, will come from them.”

Return to play unknown

Asked if Johnson could possibly return to basketball activities in the future, White couldn’t say. 

“I have no idea,” he said, “and even if I did, I could not talk about it.”

Following the SEC teleconference, White met with the local media, where he revealed Johnson was also in the film room with assistant coach Jordan Mincy to help scout the Commodores. 

“Right now he’s really eager to help with scouting and doing some coaching, doing some officiating, talking a little trash on the sideline. He joked about really being heavily involved in scouting on the front end, but it’s actually coming to fruition. Maybe we thought he was joking and he wasn’t. In fact, Coach Mincy’s got the next scout, and Coach Mincy and I had an early morning meeting set for this morning and when I showed up at the office Coach Mincy was in his office and Keyontae was in there with him,” White said. “He’s giving his thoughts, he’s watched a lot of film of Vanderbilt. He’ll do a really good job in that role, and I think it will help his development down the road. Not only that, but I think it will give our guys another voice and a pure voice. And Keyontae will become an extension of us in the near future.”

Johnson will reportedly miss anywhere from three to six months as he recovers, but the prognosis didn’t stop him from expressing his intentions to return to the court — although that’s a medical decision rather than Johnson's call or the program's.

“That was over a week ago, maybe 10 days ago (he said) ‘I’m ready to roll’,” White said. “Those decisions, yeah, it’s all the experts.” 

Florida postponed four games as Johnson, the SEC’s preseason Player of the Year, recovered, and White said the decisions were made in consultation with the players. In the interim, the Duke women’s basketball program pulled the plug on the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19; considering White’s father, Kevin White, is the athletics director at Duke University, it begged the question whether the Gators could possibly do the same. 

White said that wasn’t a discussion — the Gators, ready or not, are returning to the floor imminently.

“If our guys led that charge, we certainly would be open to it. This is all about our guys. It’s about Keyontae and his teammates,” White said. “I know it’s happened in another program, in another sport, of course, on the other side. But that has not come up here. Our guys, at least today, our guys are eager to play.”

How to watch Florida vs. Vanderbilt

Who: Florida (3-1) at Vanderbilt (4-2)

When: 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: WRUF