As player after player went off the board in front of him, Keyontae Johnson kept reminding himself to relax and keep his eye on the prize.
His patience was finally rewarded late Thursday night when he finally heard his name called near the end of the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft. With the No. 50 overall pick, he was headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“My mind was just maintained on trusting the process (and) what team would give me the chance,” Johnson, Kansas State’s All-America forward, told reporters afterward. “When my name got called and I got the call, everything was just utter relief off my shoulders. The best feeling I’ve felt in a while.”
Johnson’s selection was the next step in a long journey that was sidetracked for nearly two years after he collapsed on the court during a game in December of 2020, four games into his junior season at Florida. He had been selected the SEC preseason player of the year for the Gators and was a projected lottery pick for the 2021 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-4, 239-pound Johnson was later diagnosed with a condition known as “athlete’s heart,” and was finally cleared medically last summer to resume his career at Kansas State. He took full advantage of the opportunity, averaging 17.4 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds a game while helping the Wildcats win 26 games and reach the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight under first-year head coach Jerome Tang.
For his efforts, Johnson was selected the Big 12 newcomer of the year and was a first-team all-conference pick in addition to receiving third-team All-America honors.
“Knowing Keyontae, the kind of person that he is, he was extremely thankful for the opportunity he had last year, and I expect him to be the same this year in what’s going on right now,” Tang said Thursday before the draft. “That he is going to be thankful that he’s in this position.
“And whoever calls his name, he’s going to be extremely thankful for that, and I guarantee you that whoever called his name, a year from now will be very thankful they picked him, because he’s just a terrific human being and an excellent basketball player.”
Johnson, who wasn’t cleared by the NBA’s Fitness to Play panel until a month ago, went through an individual workout for Oklahoma City before the draft, so he was somewhat familiar with the Thunder organization.
“I had a good workout, and I showed them a lot of things that I could do that they were looking for,” Johnson said. “And it was just a good conversation. I got to know them, just being me.
“I felt comfortable talking to them (and) I feel like they felt comfortable with me and just the vibe connected. Everything’s just history from there.”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @arnegreen.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas State basketball’s Keyontae Johnson to Thunder in NBA Draft
Source: Yahoo Sports