Illness Forces NBA Prospect to End Career
Inside Baylor University’s arena are basketball dreams, as players take their hopes for a spin, getting a shot to earn an NBA career! Few come close. Even fewer get there. But none can match the journey of 7-foot-1 center, Isaiah Austin.
“I was the kid that wanted to stay in the gym”, Isaiah remembers, “5, 6, 7 hours longer than other kids would; the love for the game just flowing through your body. And I just always felt it. I just wanted to have a basketball in my hand.”
Isaiah’s family moved to Texas. When he arrived in the eighth grade, he was hard to miss. “Everybody was hearing that a new 6’ 8” kid”, he explains, “who was scrawny, moved to town and everybody wanted him on their team. People were coming to watch me.”
Through high school, crowds grew. Isaiah became a top-5 recruit nationally. Baylor made the best impression, enabling Isaiah to stay instate and close to home. Baylor Basketball Head Coach Scott Drew says, “On the court at 7’1”, not many people can handle the ball and shoot it like he can. He had a knack for making big shots. Very good shot blocker! He’s a great teammate, a humble guy, a servant guy. He had a determination about him.”
Isaiah adds, “I’m locked in on one goal and that’s to win and to do whatever I can with my teammates and for my teammates.”
Isaiah first declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season, but changed his mind because of a shoulder injury. As a sophomore, he led the Bears to a mid-season 7th ranking and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. His visibility grew. Isaiah chose to enter the 2014 draft and intensified his training saying, “I really wasn’t listening to all the outside chirps and things like that. Every day I came into the gym, my trainer, would just tell me every day I’m becoming a lot better than I was. And that would just fuel me to keep going hard.”
Isaiah was among the pre-draft buzz, holding court about his basketball future – until an unpredictable bounce suddenly shut it down. Doctors told Isaiah they found symptoms for Marfan Syndrome – a disorder that makes the heart susceptible to rupture. Just five days before the draft, the diagnosis was confirmed. Isaiah would no longer play competitively. Friends and family broke the news to him. Isaiah recalls, “Everybody was there, my coaching staff, my mom, my little brother and sister, girlfriend, pastors. I just remember seeing one face and that was my mom’s; face red, eyes swollen and just tears running down her cheek. And that’s when it hit me. I just asked my mom, I said, ‘is it what I think it is?’ As soon as we made eye contact, I broke down. You know, I started crying and it was the toughest moment I’ve ever had to hear in my life.”
Coach Drew remembers, “You could feel God’s presence all night long. Prayers and songs kept the night moving in a manner and a direction that I think was pleasing to God.”
Isaiah’s condition became headlines. Isaiah’s twitter response went viral. He was invited to the June draft as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced a ceremonial pick honoring Isaiah and fulfilling his childhood dream.
Isaiah believes, “God will never bring you to anything He can’t bring you through. (I’ve had) tough times in my life, but at the same time He’s brought me through. Finding out about Marfan’s not only saved my life, but, you know, it changed my life for the better. He’s given me a chance to spread His Word and spread His Gospel. He’s given me a way to touch people around the world with my story and let them know that they’re going to fight through adversity in their life, but they have to just keep faith in God and trust in Him.”
Turns out, Isaiah’s ability to look past hardship has become the biggest play of his career. Ironically, his focused outlook was honed as a teen, while playing his basketball blind in one eye.Isaiah explains, “In warm ups in one of my 8th grade games, I just went up for a routine dunk and I came down and just was seeing red. It was kind of scary, but at the time I thought it was adrenaline, so I didn’t really worry about it until the next morning when I woke up and it was still there. That’s when I was rushed in for emergency surgery.”
It was the first of 4 surgeries on his right eye, the same eye that was struck by a baseball as a 10 year old. None of the painful procedures restored his eyesight. With altered vision and depth perception, Isaiah learned to adjust his shot. He kept it secret, before revealing his visual handicap publically, mid-way through his sophomore season.
Tom Buehring, 700 Club Sports reporter: “What has the loss of vision provided for you?”
“Confidence and strength. I feel like I wasn’t really a confident person and losing my vision in my eye just made me have to develop a confidence. God putting me through these 4 surgeries just made me a stronger, a mentally tougher person, mature enough to handle the news that I received. He was leading me up to this, gain the things that I needed to go through this and to push through this, to show people that if you trust in Him and believe in Him, then everything will be all right.”
As a public speaker Isaiah is in demand, receiving awards and establishing his foundation to raise support and awareness for those affected by Marfan Syndrome. He’s back at Baylor as a student, while also serving as manager of Bears Basketball. Isaiah is working toward his degree with a job offer from the NBA waiting. He says, “When I say, ‘life isn’t fair and life isn’t what you want it to be. I really mean that, because you’re not in control of it! At the same time, I knew that I trusted His plan from the beginning to lead me through and I trusted God that He would give me different opportunities in my life to go and be successful in a different manner and in a different way.” Coach Drew insists, “There’s only a few players that can play in the NBA. There’s even fewer who are called for something like Isaiah’s been called for.”
Isaiah Austin. Baylor Basketball Icon! Who walks by faith and not by sight! Embracing a cross he bears -- rebounding in his own life and now scoring in the lives of others. “God is the one for my life, Isaiah says, “He’s done something for me that I don’t think basketball ever would’ve done for me. It wouldn’t have changed my heart. I just couldn’t be more thankful for the position that I’m in, because Him putting me through this fire has brought me to the light. I know that He’s my salvation. I know that at the end of the day, I’m being the servant that He wants me to be.”