Keyontae Johnson, March Madness Hero, Could Have Left His Basketball Career With Millions

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Mar. 24 2023, Published 12:10 p.m. ET

Two years and change after a major health scare, Keyontae Johnson is back in action on the basketball court. In fact, Keyontae and his teammate Markquis Nowell teamed up for an alley-oop dunk that boosted Kansas State toward a 98–93 overtime victory over Michigan State. This sent the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in the 2023 March Madness championship.

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“I was calling one thing and Nowell was calling something else,” Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang told reporters, per USA Today. “Nowell noticed Johnson out of the corner of his eye and threw the alley-oop because of their connection.”

Added Markquis: “It was just a basketball play between me and Keyontae. We knew how Michigan State plays defense. They play high up, and Keyontae just told me, we got eye contact, and he was like, lob, lob. I just threw it up, and he made a great play.”

Keyontae Johnson’s health took a dramatic turn in December 2020.

During a basketball game with his University of Florida teammates against Florida State on Dec. 12, 2020, Keyontae collapsed to the court and had to be taken away on a stretcher.

“I just remember after the alley-oop, they called a timeout,” he told The New York Times in a February 2023 interview. “When I was walking out of the timeout, I looked down and everything just went black. That’s when I collapsed, was in a coma for three days. And when I woke up, I seen my mom.”

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Keyontae was diagnosed with acute myocarditis at first. He later said he had “athlete’s heart,” an increase in cardiac mass due to intense athletic training, per the Times. Amid his recovery, Keyontae graduated from Florida and, with another year of eligibility in his college career, he transferred to Kansas State.

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He gave up a potential insurance payout of $5 million to continue playing basketball.

Just months before his on-court collapse, Keyontae took out a policy with the NCAA's Exceptional Disability Insurance Program, which gives college athletes protection against the loss of future earnings as a pro athlete due to injury or sickness. That policy could have given him a payout of $5 million, according to the Associated Press, but it also would have meant he wouldn’t be able to play pro basketball or play more than nine more college basketball games, as Insider reports.

And so Keyontae opted not to cash in on the insurance policy and instead joined Kansas State to work with Jerome, who has experience helping athletes with heart issues. “It wasn’t hard to give up [the money],” Keyontae said after Thursday’s game, per Insider. “Me and Coach Tang had a meeting when I first got on campus, and he brought it up. He asked me will I take the money, and I told him I came here to play the whole season — I'm not worried about the money. We never talked about it since.”

The 22-year-old went on, “So when I came on campus, the money was out of the equation. I told him I knew my goal was trying to get to the NBA, and taking the money and doing that was not gonna get me there.”

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