Florida Gators basketball returns, Keyontae Johnson back with the team
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Keyontae Johnson is back with his team. The Gators forward is not practicing but he is working with the Florida coaching staff and helping with some scout work.
“Johnson is back with us and doing well,” White said during his SEC Teleconference call. “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 in a dry offensive segment where he’s correcting guys and leading. We’re extremely grateful.”
Johnson also attended a women’s basketball practice on Sunday to watch his girlfriend, freshman Jordyn Merritt.
The 21-year-old still continues to improve, however, White did not want to share any more details about Johnson’s recovery or about his medical situation. There is still no official word on the cause of Johnson’s collapse on Dec. 12.
“There’s not really anything new I can say about Keyontae from a medical standpoint,” White said. “His past, his current, his future medical condition along those lines, because of privacy laws, because of incomplete information on my end. Most importantly because it’s not my role in this process. His medical team and his family are leading that front, so any decisions, any announcements will come from them.”
Johnson was transported to UF Shands after a few days at Tallahassee memorial.
“I always love my guys, and you always think you really love them,” White said. “But when you experience something that traumatic, it really makes you re-examine a lot of things.”
Florida basketball returned to the hardwood for practice for the first time on Sunday night following 15 days off. Although White noted the players were sloppy and had to scrape off a bit of rust, White says his team needed that time to work through the mental and emotional toll seeing Johnson collapse on the floor.
“Our guys needed to get away from it,” White said. “We’re really happy to be back together. We’re really rusty. Our conditioning is not anywhere where it needs to be right now to be really competitive in this league. We’ve got a ways to go, and it’s right on us.
“Our guys had reservation when we first came back from Tallahassee, which led to some decisions that we made, of course. Since we’ve come back from the Christmas break, our guys have been adamant and very clear. Collectively we’ve given them all opportunities, too, without the peer pressure present, to communicate their feelings and their desires moving forward.”
According to White, they asked the team those same questions in Tallahassee and the players had a clear message, they wanted to continue.
“No regrets,” said White about playing. “Decisions were based on the best interest of our student-athletes, periods. More so in my vernacular, I asked my guys if they wanted to play on several occasions. ‘Yes!’ They were adamant, they were emotionally charged to play for Keyontae. Every media timeout we talked about it. At halftime we revisited it and our guys were, again, adamant about finishing the game,
“Our guys are ready to move forward. Not move on from Keyontae Johnson, it’s very different. But move forward with him and to play for each other, to play for Keyontae. These guys want to play basketball.”
White once again took the time to express his gratitude for everyone who helped and sent prayers to Johnson.
“We’re extremely grateful,” White said. “Obviously we’re incredibly thankful to everyone really around the country and around the world that prayed for him and his family through this traumatic couple weeks. I’d like to thank personally all the medical personnel and executives and staff on site at Tallahassee Memorial and UF Health Shands and Dr. Marilyn Cox from that area in which the game was played.”
Although White calls the events around the collapse, one of the most traumatic events he has been through, he will always remember seeing Johnson well again.
“I’ve given Keyontae a lot of hugs lately. His pops has gotten to where he makes fun of me,” said White. “He tells me to get away from him at times. He’s joking, obviously, really, really funny guy. Yeah, incredibly emotional for all of us.
“In a team meeting discussing how we would move forward if we were going to move forward and really we were going to do it one way or another, but if we were planning on practicing that day, the next day, do we need a few days off? Do we want to play the next game? It was really just an open discussion with our team when Duke gave us really good news on Key at that point. And a lot of people broke down as they did for the other reasons. But as they did on the floor in Tallahassee, lot of people broke down emotionally out of happiness, excitement, relief. Key’s walking around and he’s eager to get back in the gym with you guys.”
Florida will take on Vanderbilt on Dec. 30 in the SEC opener. The game will tip at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 in Nashville, Tenn.
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