Former Baylor standout Isaiah Austin is back in the game
His shot at the NBA draft was lost to Marfan syndrome, but he’s about to land in the EuroLeague
Days before he expected to hear his name called in the 2014 NBA draft, former Baylor center and NBA hopeful Isaiah Austin said, he held on to one phrase — “You can make this your excuse, or you can make this your story.” He had just been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue, including aortic enlargement.
On Sunday, Austin got another chance to realize his dream of a professional basketball career, announcing on Facebook that he had signed a contract with EuroLeague team FMP Belgrade, an affiliate of Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade.
“After 2014, I was told this day would never come, but God is great and has been with me this whole time, so here I am!” Austin said via his Facebook page. “Signing my first professional basketball contract ever, and I am so grateful!
“To everyone that has sent a congratulations, a few words of encouragement, or both … THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart and I’m so grateful for the abundance of love and support! Sorry that I’ve been so busy lately getting ready for the next big step in life, that I haven’t been able to respond to each individual message.”
The contract came a month and half after Austin announced that doctors had cleared him to return to the hardwood.
Marfan syndrome has taken the lives of several athletes, most notably Olympic volleyball star Flo Hyman. So when doctors discovered Austin’s condition, they told the projected late first-round, early second-round draft pick that he would not be able to play.
Austin learned there was a problem during the NBA draft combine. He was put through a standard physical and an electrocardiogram test revealed an abnormality in his heart.
“I thought it was a dream when it happened,” Austin said. “I really didn’t break down. I just lost all emotion. It’s heartbreaking. Your soul is just being sucked out of you.
“I know basketball is not my life. It’s just something I enjoy to do and something that’s brought me to great places in this world and made me become a better man because of it. I was blessed to be able to play. One day, the ball was going to stop bouncing eventually. It just happened sooner for me than for others.”
After receiving the news, Austin walked into his aunt’s home, where he was greeted by friends, family, coaches and pastors. He picked himself up from the corner he had crumpled in and made the decision to press on. He did so for himself, for those who had supported him and, most importantly, for his little brother and sister, who made the eight-hour drive from Kansas with their mother, Lisa Green.
“While I was sitting there, I didn’t want to break down in front of my little brother and sister,” Austin told FOXSports.com’s Reid Forgrave on June 23, 2014. “So I toughed it out. So I told them, ‘We’ll be all right.’ I didn’t want them hanging their heads on this. It’s a big deal, but it’s not. Life keeps going. Everything keeps flowing.”
Austin was showered with support. NBA commissioner Adam Silver invited him to the 2014 draft and picked him between the 15th and 16th selections in a ceremonial gesture.
In two seasons at Baylor, Austin averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 28.9 minutes per game.
“I am about to be out here pursuing my dream,” Austin said in a video he posted on his Instagram account. “Ever since my doctors told me that I was cleared, it’s been in my mind: I want to go chase this. It’s always been my dream. At the same time, I’m a God-fearing man, and I believe that everything happens in life for a reason. So why would God put it in my doctor’s heart to say that I was cleared if he didn’t want me to go and chase my dream and share my testimony with millions of people around the world.”