Gratitude, prayer key to Keyontae Johnson’s second chance in college basketball and life

After a near-death collapse on court and nearly two years away from college basketball, Keyontae Johnson is making the most of his second chance.

The Kansas State Wildcats’ forward is the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 Conference and a crucial member of the 12th-ranked team in the nation. Johnson’s transfer to Kansas State this year was named by ESPN as the “best of the best” among transfers, leading to the Wildcats being named the network’s biggest surprise in college basketball this season. 

After a scary incident nearly cost Johnson his life in December 2020, such a resurgence seemed anything but possible. Johnson, a University of Florida Gator at the time, collapsed on the floor following a timeout and was rushed to the hospital to receive life-saving care.

The standout forward feared he may never play basketball again but remained thankful to simply be alive. 

“First and foremost, I’d like to thank God. I know y’all have been sending y’all prayers the last few weeks, and me and my parents are very grateful for the prayers that have been going out,” Johnson said in a Twitter video following the incident. “God said my work here ain’t done.” 

Johnson ended up graduating from the University of Florida with one year left of eligibility but was never medically cleared to play for the Gators. The former preseason SEC Player of the Year had generated NBA first-round draft buzz before the collapse but now had to seek a second chance with another team. 

After getting a second opinion and medical clearance last year, Johnson chose to make his improbable return to the basketball court at Kansas State. 

“I’m feeling good, just thanking God every day for giving me the opportunity to get here and play again, just staying patient,” Johnson said after his debut this season. 

Johnson’s coach, Jerome Tang, a self-described “lover of Jesus,” kept the game in perspective for his team, celebrating the miracle of Johnson’s return. 

“Like I told the guys tonight, whether you felt you played well or didn’t play well or played a lot or didn’t play – nobody should be unhappy tonight because Keyontae Johnson played a basketball game, a real game, an NCAA basketball game for the first time in two years,” Tang said. 

This season, Johnson played well enough to finish as a top-five finalist for the 2023 Julius Erving Award. 

On the anniversary of what Johnson affectionately calls his “rebirth day,” the star forward posted a video on his Instagram expressing gratitude to God for a second chance at life. 

During a January interview with Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, Johnson spoke about how gratitude and prayer have been a staple in his life since that fateful December game. 

 “Every day I think about it. I wake up, thank God for just giving me the opportunity,” Johnson said. “Before I get on the court, I just pray for a healthy season, keep just putting my faith in God. I mean, He got me through my situation. I feel like the best I can do is just keep praying and thank Him every day.” 

The Wildcats earned a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, and will face off against 14-seed Montana State on Friday.