Keyontae Johnson Named To Naismith Watch List

Keyontae Johnson was named to the preseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy, the most prestigious individual award given in college basketball. This honor is awarded to the top player in all of college basketball, regardless of position. The preseason watch list is expansive, 50 players to be exact, but Johnson’s inclusion on the list shows that the college basketball world at large has acknowledged his consistent quality through two seasons at Florida and are keeping an eye out for what could be an even better season.

Averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game last season his numbers were already respectable but were a bit throttled due to Florida’s methodical pace of play. If the Gators truly play as fast as Mike White is promising there will be more possessions per game, giving Johnson the opportunity to put up more numbers without any actual change in his game. Even though his box score numbers should have a chance to rise even if his game doesn’t change that doesn’t mean he won’t. Johnson had NBA interest should he have decided to go pro this summer and the fact he’s coming back to college means he wants to improve his stock further. Entering the 2020-21 season he is undoubtedly Florida’s leader and will be the focal point of Florida’s offensive attack using his explosive first step and strength to finish around the rim.

Johnson has also been a consistent shooter from outside finishing his sophomore season at a 38% clip. That’s a fantastic number, though one that wasn’t used a ton as he only averaged 2.5 attempts per game. Given his efficiency from behind the arc the Gators would be wise to try to get him to double that number of attempts, something that could also help showcase Johnson as one of the best players in the game.

When we look at the end of the 2020-21 season Johnson likely won’t be near the top of the leaderboard when it comes to pure scoring but it’s his jack-of-all-trades versatility that makes him one of the country’s best. His rebounding numbers speak for themself despite standing only 6’5” and he is often tasked with guarding much bigger players, a role he has no problem with. He’s a better passer than his pair of assists per game would indicate and he also chips in over a steal per game on the defensive end.

What would help Johnson’s candidacy more than anything would be if the Gators had a successful season sitting right at the top of the SEC standings and landing a top NCAA Tournament seed. It’s likely Johnson will be the best player and leader on the Gators so if they’re a really good team it stands to reason that their best player would be in the mix for one of the top individual awards in college basketball.

A year ago the Gators had two players on the Naismith preseason watch list in Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Andrew Nembhard. By the time the midseason watch list was released (a paired down list from the 50 on the preseason list) neither player was to be found. It wasn’t that either player had a particularly disappointing season but neither seemed to take a leap from their previous year and the lack of success for the Gators made it impossible to justify having them on the list. Johnson will hope to do something neither of those players did and make it to the preseason round of the watch list.

Given Florida’s challenging schedule they’ll play a handful of players on the watch list.

Scottie Barnes (Florida State)
Brandon Boston (Kentucky)
Terrance Clarke (Kentucky)
Sam Hauser (Virginia)
Yves Pons (Tennessee)
Javonte Smart (LSU)
Trendon Watford (LSU)
Oscar Tschiebwe (West Virginia)

Had the Gators schedule gone as expected before the changes they also would have seen Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn (Illinois) as well as James Bouknight (UConn). Given the difficult nature of Florida’s schedule and the fact he’ll have head to head matchups with so many of these players Johnson will have every opportunity to showcase his talents and try to prove he’s one of the best players in the country. In fact, most of these Naismith candidates that the Gators will play against happen to play the same position as Johnson meaning there could be some heated head to head battles.

It’s tough to say exactly what Johnson’s chances are of winning the award but if you’re a believer in the Vegas odds he sits at around the 15th to 30th best chance of winning. The wide net the Naismith preseason watch list casts usually ends up picking the player that ultimately wins the award and just being included speaks to the progression of Johnson’s career.

I’m sure if you asked Johnson about it he wouldn’t be concerned with individual accolades or accomplishments such as the Naismith Trophy but if the Gators were to have success as a team one of the side effects could be Johnson winning this award and if that were the case it would be huge for him as well as the Florida basketball program. We wish him the best.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.