Former Kansas State star Keyontae Johnson humbly chases NBA dreams after health scare

David Banks/USA TODAY Sports

Keyontae Johnson wanted to make one thing abundantly clear after he finished a private workout with the Golden State Warriors on Monday.

He was grateful to be there.

The former Kansas State basketball star has met with, and showed off his skills for, a number of professional teams as he has tried to prove himself worthy of a selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. He has maintained a humble approach throughout the process. This occasion was no different.

After all he’s been through, he treats the process like a gift.

“Every day I try to take a 30-minute break and just cherish the moment,” Johnson told reporters. “I sit back and reflect and thank God for the opportunity.”

Johnson is currently projected as a second-round pick. Still, he thinks he has already beaten the odds, no matter what happens on draft night. Many thought he had played his last game when he suffered a scary collapse against Florida State back in December of 2020. A heart condition put his basketball career on hold for two seasons until he was cleared to return to action and then transferred to K-State.

Even then, no one knew what to expect from him with the Wildcats.

But an incredible season in Manhattan put him back on the NBA radar. As a senior, the 6-foot-6 forward earned All-Big 12 honors while averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Along with Markquis Nowell, he led K-State to 26 victories and a trip to the Elite Eight.

Johnson played so well in purple that some were surprised he opted to retain his college eligibility while he tested the NBA Draft waters until he decided to stay in the draft at the end of May.

Turns out, that was simply a fall-back option. Johnson and his agents weren’t completely sure that the NBA would medically clear him to play at the next level. Once he was given the green light, he said “it was an easy decision” to turn pro. But returning to K-State for an extra year was “a second option, just in case.”

Johnson said his NBA Draft journey got underway with a trip to the Mayo Clinic and all kinds of medical tests. He was happy to do it, but he was also frustrated when he wasn’t allowed to perform at the NBA Draft Scouting Combine.

“The process was a little long,” Johnson said.

When the NBA cleared Johnson to play as a professional, he described the news as “a good birthday present for me,” and “a weight off my shoulders.”

That has allowed him to start focusing more on his game and less about, well, everything else. He says he models his game after PJ Tucker and Kawhi Leonard. He thinks his age, 23, and his basketball IQ will help him follow in their footsteps. His ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter, his skills as a ball-handler and his talent as a defender should make him an attractive option for several NBA teams.

He tried to showcase all of that while playing in front of Golden State coaches and scouts on Monday. He thinks he accomplished his goal, saying the workout went well. Johnson is looking forward to whatever comes next.

Still, he is happy to continue to reminiscing about the past, including his college health scare and how he overcame it.

“It’s something I will always be happy to talk about,” Johnson said. “It’s my story. It’s inspirational. If I could say one thing about it to anyone out there it would be to never give up.”