Former Baylor Bears center Isaiah Austin was projected by many to be a late first-round or early second-round pick in this Thursday's 2014 NBA draft, an offensively skilled 7-foot-1 shot-blocker who didn't profile as the sort of explosive athlete you slot in at the top of your board, but an intriguing mix of size, length and mobility who could find a niche as a contributor at the pro level despite being legally blind in his right eye. Austin recently learned that his dream of playing in the NBA would never come true, thanks to the revelation during pre-draft medical testing that he has Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissues that hold together all of the body's cells and organs.
The disorder affects one in roughly ever 5,000 people; Austin, unfortunately, is one of them. One of the most troublesome outcomes of Marfan syndrome deals with the enlargement of the arteries of the heart. Even the standard level of exertion that comes with playing basketball on the NBA level could cause those arteries to rupture, endangering Austin's life. As a result, instead of preparing for his entry into the NBA, Austin must now prepare to deal with the reality thas his basketball career has come to an end.
“The draft is four days away, and I had a dream that my name was going to be called," Austin said in a statement. "I’m sorry [my supporters] couldn’t see me play in the NBA. But it’s not the end, it’s only the beginning.”
While Austin's family, friends and supporters, and the rest of us won't be able to see him compete in the NBA, we will at least be able to see him take part in the draft itself.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has invited Baylor's Isaiah Austin to come to Thursday's NBA Draft as his guest.— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) June 22, 2014
NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed to BDL on Monday afternoon that Austin has accepted the commissioner's invitation, and will be in attendance at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Thursday night. It's a small thing, in the grand scheme of it all, but it's still a pretty great one.
I'm sure it will be a difficult and emotionally charged experience for Austin to watch his peers walk up on the stage at Barclays, shake Silver's hand and celebrate the beginning of their NBA journeys, but it seems like the 20-year-old is handling the heartbreaking diagnosis with far more grace than many of us could muster.
"This game. It is a platform for anyone and everyone who comes in contact with it," Austin wrote in the caption of an Instagram post on Sunday afternoon. "I was blessed enough to play it on one of the highest levels despite the odds that were stacked against me. Blessed is all I can say. Thankful is all I can be. The love from you all is greatly appreciated! I know God has a plan!
"If I can say one [thing] to anyone, it would be please, please do not take the privilege of playing sports or anything for granted," Austin wrote, concluding his missive with the hashtag "#NewBeginnings."
The positivity continued on Monday:
Woke up today blessed. I feel God's healing hands around me. Love the support you have all been giving me. Never forget, GOD IS GREAT! 🙏— God's Child (@IsaiahAustin) June 23, 2014
The outpouring of support Austin has received in the aftermath of his announcement has helped the 20-year-old bounce back from the revelation of his diagnosis, which sounds like it was extraordinarily difficult. From John Werner of the Waco Tribune:
Lisa Green broke the news to her son Saturday night before a support group she had gathered in the Metroplex that included [Baylor head coach Scott] Drew and his coaching staff.
“Isaiah had just gotten some great news from a couple of NBA teams that said they were planning to draft him,” Green said. “He walked into the room giving high-fives. Then he looked at me and I told him the results [of the Marfan syndrome tests] were positive. He got into a corner and slid into a ball, and cried like a baby. My husband picked him up and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
“It was a real emotional night,” Drew said. “Saturday night [Green] had family, and our coaching staff was there, and basically she broke the news to all of us there because she wanted [Austin] to see the support group was there to support him.
“He’s not going to be alone in this, and he’s got a lot of people that love and care for him.”
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