In January, Isaiah Austin opened up his heart-warming story to the world. In the middle of his sophomore year at Baylor, Austin revealed he had suffered a torn retina while in middle school and has been blind in his right eye ever since. In fact, he wears a prosthetic.
Austin kept his blindness a secret while being heavily recruited out of Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas. Austin feared schools would lose faith in him if they knew about his eye. He wanted to appear fully healthy to help his recruitment.
Austin's mother, Lisa Green, summed up the journey.
Isaiah Austin's mom: "You can make it your excuse, or you can make it your story." Holy Moses.
— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) January 18, 2014
Austin played on. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds for the season, including 14 points and 5.3 rebounds in three NCAA tournament games. He named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team.
Austin jumped to the NBA. And then he didn't.
On Saturday night, Austin was informed he has Marfan Syndrome. The genetic disorder is caused by problems with the folding of the protein fibrillin-1. Marfan Syndrome can weaken the aorta, thus damaging the pace of blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
As Austin explains, "Basically the connective tissues in your body are weakened because the cells aren't fully developed."
Austin's EKG test at the NBA draft combine in June suggested he could have a disorder. When the test proved it was Marfan Syndrome, Austin's NBA dreams hit rock bottom.
"It's not deadly when you're living your everyday life, but it can be because my aortic artery has been growing for the past two years," Austin says. "If it gets too englarged, I will have to go under open-heart surgery. Playing basketball was a risk because, if my body exerts too much energy, I can pump too much blood."
One week ago, Isaiah Austin was projected as a late first-round pick. By the weekend, he was out of the draft.
Well, not exactly.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Austin's agent Dwon Clifton, earlier in the week. Silver invited Austin to New York City for the draft as the commissioner's personal guest.
"I forgot about the syndrome for a while," Austin says. "I just couldn't stop thinking I'm going to New York, I'm going to New York for the NBA Draft. It's always been my dream to go to New York."
Inviting Austin to the draft would have been enough. After all, Silver has bigger fish to fry, with Donald Sterling's presence still lingering and a wild free agency summer hovering.
But Silver, who has already shown a more tender persona than predecessor David Stern in his first five months as commissioner, did more. In between picks 15 and 16 in the draft, Silver called Austin to the podium. He used the term, "The NBA selects," and the pick came right where Austin was projected. Austin even got a draft hat, donning the logo of the NBA.
Austin got teary-eyed and gave Stern a bear hug with his 7-1 frame (Marfan Syndrome is more common in especially oversized individuals).
For NBA players, coaches and fans, somberness cast upon them, as well. The NBA community also suffers. Before the diagnosis, Austin showed perseverance battling blindness to achieve his basketball goals. After the diagnosis, he has already become a spokesman for the Marfan foundation while remaining as upbeat as possible.
Even in the green room, he could not help himself from smiling.
"Today has been a dream come true. I've met so many people that are supporting me, and they don't even know me on a personal level. It just shows the heart and character that all these people have. Just being around the draftees and seeing all my friends get drafted, it just brings joy I my heart because I know how hard we work to get to this point," Austin says.
It is tough for everyone else. The NBA community and its fans will not get Austin's presence as a player. The loss is bitter.
Austin carries on, as he has always done. In the grand scheme of things, being diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome and losing the ability to play professional basketball are another bump in Austin's general life path. As he has done in the past, he will have to make amends.
"These past couple days have really taught me a lot about myself, he says. "They've really shown me that no matter what obstacle you're thrown in life, there's always a way around it, or there's always a way through it."
Austin will return to Baylor, where he is a finance major. Baylor coach Scott Drew has offered him a job in the coaching department. On top of that, Austin's high school coach, Ray Forsett, and Silver have offered him jobs.
As usual, Austin is looking at the broad picture.
"I'm back to school," he says. "I'm going to take things slow. I'm only 20 years old, and I'm ready to do whatever I can to make my life better."
He may never even play a pickup game again, but this may not be the last the world sees of Isaiah Austin. In New York City on Thursday night, he reminded the world he is more than just a basketball player. Although he got some help from a trip on Silver, he made the most of the break. As Austin always does, he took adversity and turned it on its head.
Austin has coaching aspirations and he will be a voice in raising awareness for Marfan Syndrome. There is no reason to believe Austin will not put his full energy into both endeavors, as he did with basketball for 20 years.
"I don't want to be just an inspiration to people who play basketball," Austin says. "I want to be an inspiration to people all over the world. People have different obstacles they're facing. I want them to know that they can push through anything because I've done it."
This guy thought he was going to be in the NBA less than a week ago. Now, he is already turning the corner on life's next chapter.
Next time you are having a bad day, think of Isaiah Austin. Better yet, think about what he would do if he were you.
Isaiah Austin will never play professional basketball. But his message will have an impact.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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