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Florida forward Keyontae Johnson guards Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. Kentucky defeated Florida 65-54. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

As Keyontae Johnson Improves, He Finds Himself Playing a Crucial Role for the Gators

As a freshman, Keyontae Johnson is working to get better every day. His role has continued to expand as his overall game has evolved tremendously throughout the season.

Rapid Growth

Through the first 16 games of the season, Johnson averaged 18 minutes per game in a role off the bench. In his first four games in the month of January, he played 23 minutes, then 12, 14, and 25 minutes. However, in Gators’ fifth game of the month, a road game against the Georgia Bulldogs, coach Mike White inserted Johnson into the starting lineup.

Since then, Johnson is playing almost 28 minutes per game. In his five games as a starter, he is averaging 8.4 points, 8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He’s set two different career-highs in the last two games: one in scoring and one in rebounding. The Virginia product is leading the team in rebounding during this five game stretch. For Keyontae, he feels like the game has slowed down for him since entering the starting lineup.

Battling with the Bigs

Some of Keyontae Johnson’s increased minutes have come from the season ending injury to Keith Stone. With several key losses to the Gators’ frontcourt this season, Johnson entered a key role for the team as their starting power forward. It’s a tough role to ask of an undersized true freshman, but he has thrived as of late.

He is listed at just 6-5, but he has the strength and athleticism to hold his own in the paint. Johnson registered a 41.5 inch vertical leap during his orientation assessment when he arrived at Florida. That level of athleticism is on full display right now. He’s skying for dunks and put-backs while out-jumping taller players for rebounds. He’s diving for lose balls and giving 100% on every possession. Johnson has become an elite rebounder for the Gators, and he’s just trying to do whatever the team needs.

In Florida’s disappointing loss to Kentucky, Keyontae grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds. Half of those came on the offensive glass. He’s averaging 3.4 offensive rebounds per game as a starter, giving Florida some much-needed second chances. Johnson had an extremely tough test against Kentucky’s PJ Washington and Reid Travis. He held his own against those two. Keyontae is effectively playing in the paint for Florida, and he is getting used to it. When asked about battling against Kentucky’s talented frontcourt, Johnson said “it felt the same as any other game.”

Keyontae Johnson has become a key member of Mike White’s rotation, and his potential is through the roof. As Johnson improves his game, Florida will continue to value his positive impact.

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