Since the first confirmed reports of COVID-19 in the U.S. in March, the virus has illustrated its ability to affect the lives of those young and old — often with deadly results.
And following the sudden collapse of a University of Florida basketball player during a recent matchup with Florida State University (FSU), speculation has escalated as to whether his earlier exposure to the virus may be the root cause of his mysterious breakdown.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, team standout Keyontae Johnson, 21, had just pulled off a powerful dunk and returned to the opposite end of the court with his teammates when he suddenly began to stagger, falling forward and collapsing to the floor, unconscious. He would be rushed to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with his coach by his side where he was placed in a medically-induced coma. After doctors listed him in critical but stable condition, he was flown by helicopter from Tallahassee to Gainesville.
Keyontae reportedly has been able to talk with his family and doctors and has even spoken virtually to his teammates on Tuesday, Dec. 15. His parents said in a statement that he continues to show remarkable progress.
Keyontae, a 6-foot-5 junior, hails from Norfolk, Virginia, where he was a high school legend. As a Florida Gator, he averaged a team-high 14 points last season along with 7.1 rebounds per game and a team-high 38 steals. He scored five points in four minutes Saturday before his collapse.
FSU head basketball coach Leonard Hamilton told The Associated Press after the game, “We’re just all hopeful and praying that he’s OK. If it affected our players in an emotional way, I can imagine what the situation was with his teammates.”
Johnson and several other University of Florida players tested positive for COVID-19 during the summer. In some people, the virus can lead to myocarditis – a viral infection of the heart muscle. In its most severe stage, myocarditis can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and possible death for those previously considered as healthy.
Federal and state officials continue to scramble to secure COVID-19 vaccinations for first responders and front line hospital workers nationwide while collegiate teams struggle to complete seasons in which positive diagnoses have sidelined players and coaches and caused the postponement or cancellation of games.
As part of the Southeastern Conference, Florida follows a series of protocols including rigorous heart testing before players can be cleared to return to action following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
University of Florida officials say they’re uncertain when the team or Keyontae will play again.
But as for the future of Keyontae Johnson, it remains to be seen if this college superstar will be able to continue his quest for action in the NBA.