Keyontae Johnson was selected with the 50th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft on Thursday night. Just three years before, he was hearing his name called by NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum in front of a packed Barclays Center, he was lying in a hospital bed, not knowing if he would ever play basketball again.
Who is Keyontae Johnson
Most kids growing up will play pickup basketball and often have to face bigger, stronger, and older opponents. Keyontae Johnson was no different. However, the venue was a little different. Johnson’s toughness and basketball skill was forged playing pickup at the naval base, where is father, Marcus, worked. He would instruct the often older players to foul his son to build his physical toughness.
That toughness made Johnson a sought-after recruit coming out of Oakhill Academy in Virginia in 2017 . He ranked in the top 100 recruits and had offers from over 24 programs across the country.
Johnson ultimately settled on the University of Florida and headed to Gainsville for his college career.
In his first two seasons at Florida, his toughness and size made him a prolific rebounder and offensive weapon averaging 8 points as a freshman and doubling that output as a sophomore By his junior year, Johnson was projected as the SEC’s Pre-season Player of the Year and was predicted to be a high pick in the NBA draft.
But in the Gator’s fourth game of the 2020 season, everything changed. In the middle of a game against Florida State, Johnson collapsed. He was given life-saving treatment on the court and was transferred to the hospital, where he was placed in a medically induced coma for three days.
When he woke up, it was unclear whether he would ever play basketball again.
The best Bet you can Make
Johnson suffered from acute myocarditis, a condition that causes inflammation of the heart. He would miss the rest of the 2020 season but would be cleared to play that off-season by doctors at the Mayo Clinic and the NBA. However, Florida would not give him the go-ahead and he was forced to sit out the 2021-2022 season as well. With one year of eligibility left, he entered the transfer portal and started fresh at Kanas State. However, there was still one more decision to make. Johnson qualified for a five-million-dollar insurance policy from the NCAA. He could even play in nine games at Kanas State and still collect the money. However, if he took the money, he wouldn’t be NBA eligible. He chose to forgo the cash and play the 22-23 season at Kansas State with the hope of being drafted.
“When the doctors told me I could play and they felt good about me being on the court, it just became about basketball,” Johnson said. “If I can make it to the league, it no longer becomes about the money I gave up, but what my future could be, and I just didn’t want to settle,” he told Yahoo Sports.
At Kanas State, Johnson showed why he was in the conversation for SEC Player of the Year two years prior.
In his only season at K-state, Johnson averaged a career-high of 17 points combined with a team-leading 6.8 rebounds per game, earning him the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year award and a Third-Team-All -American award. His solid performance in the regular season helped propel K-State to a 26-10 record and a third seed in the NCAA tournament.
In the tournament, he continued his strong play, averaging 15.5 points and helping his team reach the Elite Eight.
On draft night, Johnson’s bet on himself paid off after he was drafted in the second round of the draft to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Johnson’s journey to the NBA shows us how important it is to believe in yourself. When everything was stacked against him, he trusted in his abilities and believed in his dream and not even five million dollars could change his mind.
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