Whitley: Good news is Keyontae Johnson looks like old healthy self. But questions remain.

David Whitley
Gainesville Sun

When it comes to discussing Keyontae Johnson, everything must be filed under "Just be happy we're having this conversation."

Keep that in mind now that the whispers have become reality. Johnson will not play again this season, and his basketball career at Florida is almost certainly over.

Florida's Keyontae Johnson assisting from courtside during a game at Exactech Arena earlier this year.

The first part of that came in a family statement released before Wednesday night's game against South Carolina. The second part is not official, but it's the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from a still-murky picture.

More:Gator likely out for season

All that made for a double-whammy Wednesday for Florida fans. The Gamecocks' 72-66 upset win showed how the No. 23 Gators are a work in progress — and there's a lot of work left to be done.

The more profound news was that Johnson will not be riding to the rescue, though that really wasn't news to anyone who's followed this saga.

It'd been 54 days since he crumpled to the court and everybody began saying prayers for his survival. People weren't just fearing the worst for Johnson. The sports world dreaded what his collapse could mean.

Johnson had myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be deadly if left untreated. He also had contracted COVID-19 in the summer.

A number of athletes who had COVID-19 also have been diagnosed with myocarditis. The link is unclear, but the anecdotal evidence was one reason why the Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences initially canceled their football seasons.

If doctors had determined COVID-19 contributed to Johnson's myocarditis, the shock waves would have been seismic. Every NFL, NBA, Premier League, NCAA and whatever-league athlete who'd had COVID-19 would have wondered if they were going to end up in critical condition.

Here's what wasn't in the statement about COVID and Keyontae

At least they can breathe easier. After consulting the best medical minds around the country, “The unanimous conclusion of all experts is that Keyontae’s medical emergency was not related to or a result of a previous or current Covid diagnosis.”

That's the money quote from the Johnson family. Around here, we're more concerned about what wasn't in the statement.

There was nothing about what medical condition Johnson does have. If it's not myocarditis, Wednesday would have been an ideal time to shoot down that story.

Instead, the mystery lingers.

"What comes next for Keyontae is for him to share on his own timeline and using his voice," the statement said.

Fair enough. Johnson certainly looks like his old healthy self. He's essentially become an assistant coach, which means he couldn't have liked how UF fell apart in the final 10 minutes of Wednesday's game.

Knowing Johnson's competitiveness, he would be riding to the rescue if he could. So it's obvious that something is keeping him from playing basketball.

But what is it? And how long will it last?

Johnson is not obligated to publicly divulge his medical issues. He deserves as much privacy as any 21-year-old student, but he's not just any 21-year-old student.

He's a star basketball player with a potential NBA future. So we are left to guess what the carefully-crafted statement means.

The guess here is Johnson has myocarditis or something similar. And even if every cardiologist in the Western hemisphere cleared him to resume his college career, Florida would not allow it.

Will the NBA see Johnson as a risk?

If he collapsed again, the university would get crucified. And even if Johnson could find another school willing to take the risk, it wouldn't make sense.

The pros know his talent level. Johnson's big task now is showing NBA doctors he is healthy enough to play.

The good news is many athletes with myocarditis safely return to sports after three to six months of restricted activity. But sometimes the inflammation leaves scar tissue that makes it too risky to play again.

Hopefully, Johnson will fall into that first category. He'll have a long professional career and one day attend the 50th reunion of the 2020-21 UF basketball team and make fun of his old teammates for losing to the Gamecocks.

All we know now is the SEC Preseason Player of the Year will probably never set foot again on a college basketball court. As depressing as that thought is, it should be framed around what happened Dec. 12 in Tallahassee.

As the ambulance rushed Johnson to the hospital, nobody was worried about his basketball future. Two months later, it's the main topic of conversation.           

David Whitley

It's not a happy one.

It's just one we should be happy we can still have.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com.