Updated: Apr 17
“Youth is wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw
For years that quote has been laughed at and in many cases agreed to by the millions of thousands of people who have read it. Keyontae Johnson, obviously, forgot to read it because Tuesday he made the very smart, mature decision to return for his junior year at the University of Florida. He did his fact gathering about his chances to play in the NBA before deciding his better decision was to listen to his heart which was telling him to spend one more year in a Florida basketball uniform.
There is no question the NBA was like Bali Hai, calling Johnson to turn in a classwork and dorm rooms for a shot at the good life the pros offer. Had he declared for the NBA Draft, he would have likely been drafted in the last half of the second round, giving him a legitimate shot at either making a team or getting a contract to the G-League. The temptation to bolt was there, but instead of paddling off to that island of dreams, he decided the island and the dreams will still be there next year.
Announcing his decision on Instagram, Johnson said, “Dear Gator Nation, I want to thank everyone for being with me doing this decision, and I can’t wait to get back and play with my brothers again next season! We’ve got unfinished business & the Gators will be ready to go. I’m excited to keep growing on and off the court with Coach White and our coaching staff here & keep playing in front of the Rowdy Reptiles & Gator Nation! Everybody stay safe & Go Gators!”
A first team All-SEC selection as a sophomore (averaged a team-high 14 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) Johnson had eight double-doubles, six 20-point games and was the MVP of the Charleston Classic when he put the Gators on his broad shoulders for three straight games to lead UF to the tournament championship. Along the way, he shot 54.4 percent from the field and a respectable 38 percent from the three-point line.
The numbers were there. The effort was there. Rim-rattling dunks were there. Yet, there was room to improve and Johnson knew it, which is why he will return. If he improves as much next year as he did from freshman to sophomore, then he could play himself into a first round draft pick.
Making it to the pros is the dream and goal of every kid who comes to a high profile Division I basketball program but in a league as strong top-to-bottom as the Southeastern Conference, it can be a cold, hard reality slap in the face. It’s Darwinism on display every night because only the strong survive. Johnson is very strong, both from a physical (he’s 6-5 and 235 extremely chiseled pounds) and he’s got game standpoint. Each Florida basketball game during the 2020-21 season was like watching a lion grow from a cub into a lethal beast.
And now the beast will be back along with a Florida roster that will be the best from top-to-bottom of any Mike White has had in his previous five seasons at the Florida helm. Certainly, Johnson will be the centerpiece of a roster that seems best suited to a pressing, up-and-down the floor style of play. There is enough talent and depth for the Gators to live up to their potential instead of going on a shake your head and ask why roller coaster ride like they had last season.
Johnson’s return along with the return of Scottie Lewis, who announced several days before Johnson that he will return for his sophomore season, means two of the three players giving careful thought to departing for a shot at professional basketball will be back. Point guard Andrew Nembhard has not announced his intentions, but if he elects to return, the Gators will have 13 scholarship players and depth at every position. The additions of transfers Anthony Duruji (6-8, 220) from Louisiana Tech and Tyree Appleby (6-1, 165) from Cleveland State will add two proven scorers (Duruji averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds as a sophomore and Louisiana Tech; Appleby 17.2 points, 5.6 assists at Cleveland State as a sophomore) giving White more scoring options than he’s ever had plus the ability to play practically any style from a walk it up the floor halfcourt game to a helter skelter breakneck game that threatens to blow the transmission in the scoreboards.
But it will all center around Keyontae Johnson. His decision to come back for one more year had plenty do with the eye on the future, but also because he wants to be a part of a team that oozes potential greatness.