King's Court: Isaiah Austin Targets a New Beginning After NBA Draft Heartbreak

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King's Court: Isaiah Austin Targets a New Beginning After NBA Draft Heartbreak
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A day after learning of a medical condition that would force the end of his career, former Baylor center Isaiah Austin found himself in the living room of Deion Sanders.

The NFL Hall of Famer had heard about Austin's situation that morning through a mutual friend, and he felt compelled to offer some advice.

"He told me to keep positive and stay focused," Austin said. "He told me, 'Basketball is never who you were. It's just what you did.'

"I appreciated him taking the time to do that. I needed it."

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Sanders is just one of hundreds of athletes and celebrities who have reached out to Austin since Sunday's announcement that he has Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that weakens the body's connective tissue. Considering that any type of intense physical contact to his sternum or chest could lead to death, doctors told him to halt his playing career immediately.

The 7'1" Austin, who played two seasons at Baylor before opting to turn pro in April, was projected as a second-round pick in Thursday's NBA draft.

"The support I've received has been amazing," Austin said. "It's been overwhelming."

DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle are among the high-profile basketball players who have sent Austin encouraging messages on Twitter. Music mogul Russell Simmons has reached out too, along with rapper Lil Wayne.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has invited Austin to Thursday's NBA draft. It's possible Austin could provide live, on-air commentary. A handful of companies have contacted Austin about potential jobs and internships, and Baylor's Scott Drew said there's a place for Austin on his staff if he chooses to get into coaching.

"It's been really uplifting to see how many people have stepped forward to try to pick Isaiah up and make him feel good," Drew said. "He was five days away from achieving his dream [of playing in the NBA], and then it was taken away from him so abruptly.

"Anyone who has ever worked hard for something can imagine how that must feel."

LM Otero/Associated Press

Lisa Green, Austin’s mother, learned about her son's condition during a phone call with an NBA doctor Friday afternoon.

A routine EKG test performed at the NBA predraft camp in Chicago indicated that some of the arteries in Austin's heart were enlarged. A subsequent MRI was inconclusive, so doctors took blood samples from Austin for genetic testing.

Even though they informed him then that he could have Marfan syndrome, Austin was confident he'd be fine.

"They made it pretty clear that there was a chance," Austin said. "At the same time, I believe in God. My trust in God made me think it wasn't going to happen.

"I was just living my life on the court. I was just playing basketball, playing the game I love."

Austin worked out for 11 teams over the past few months and likely would've been selected early in the second round of Thursday's draft. But his life was altered last weekend.

Upon receiving the news, Lisa Green and her husband immediately hopped in their car with their two younger children and drove nine hours from their home in Overland Park, Kansas, to Isaiah's aunt's house in Grand Prairie, Texas. Isaiah attended high school in nearby Arlington and had been working out in the area since the end of the season.

"It was the longest drive ever," Green said. "I cried the whole way. I kept trying to figure out how I was going to tell my son that he can no longer do the one thing he loves."

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Green requested that Drew and his assistants be in the room when she broke the news to Isaiah. His pastor, agent and high school coaches came too.

Isaiah said he knew something may be wrong when he pulled up to his aunt's house and saw so many cars he recognized parked outside. Still, when he walked into the living room, he was all smiles as he exchanged high-fives and hugs with people as he walked through the door.

Then he looked at his mother.

She had tears in her eyes.

"Don’t tell me what I think it is," Isaiah said.

Lisa nodded.

"I just told him that the test results had come back positive, and that I was so sorry," Lisa said. "He walked to the corner of the room, curled up like a baby on the floor and started sobbing."

Eventually Isaiah rose to his feet, went into the restroom and closed the door. When his father asked him what he was doing, Isaiah said he was trying to compose himself because he wanted to be strong in front of his 14-year-old brother, Noah, and 11-year-old sister, Narah, who were also at the house.

"When he came out," Lisa said, "they were the first two people to run over to him and put their arms around him to tell him everything is going to be OK.

"Basketball is what he loves, but it doesn't define him. When one door closes, another one opens. Blessings come all the time. God already blessed him by not allowing him to get hurt. Isaiah got on the phone with the doctor the next day, and the doctor said, 'You are so lucky to even be alive. One sharp jab to the chest could've been fatal.'"

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Austin will return from the NBA draft Friday or Saturday and then take some time to unwind with friends and family. Eventually, he said he'll start focusing on what he'd like to do next. Returning to school is a possibility, even if it means taking online courses.

Austin's agent, Dwon Clifton, said Austin had taken out a $1 million insurance policy purchased through the NCAA’s elite athlete insurance program. 

In the meantime Austin hopes his situation will raise awareness about Marfan syndrome so that more and more athletes will be tested before it's too late. Marfan syndrome is often found in individuals who are unusually tall with long limbs and bones.

Fans can show their support by purchasing a T-shirt featuring Austin's silhouette and the phrase "Dream Again" at www.Isaiah-Austin.com. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the Marfan Foundation.

"I'm doing my best to spin this into a positive," Austin said. "I can still be successful. I will be successful."

 

*All I've heard during the past week is how Joel Embiid's injury issues should be a "red flag" for any team considering selecting him in Thursday's NBA draft. Maybe so, but doesn't every player have some sort of flaw? After spending the past year heaping well-deserved praise on this year's crop of potential first-rounders, here are some red flags for some of them.

Jabari Parker: has trouble keeping his weight down; poor defender

Andrew Wiggins: not assertive (heard that one before?); mediocre ball-handler and shooter

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Julius Randle: tries to do too much at times; injured foot

Marcus Smart: weak outside shooter and so-so ball-handling skills

Noah Vonleh: had the ability to dominate more than he did; an inch or two short

Doug McDermott: not all that quick and athletic

Nik Stauskas: average defensively and a tad one-dimensional on offense

James Young: poor passer and defender

Zach LaVine: incredibly raw; at least two years away from making a significant contribution

Adreian Payne: could play with more of a mean streak at times

Tyler Ennis: questionable athleticism

P.J. Hairston: character issues; has the ability to attack but doesn't

Gary Harris: average ball-handler and defender

Rodney Hood: not a great passer or a high-level shooter

Elfrid Payton: can't shoot

Shabazz Napier: undersized

Mitch McGary: back issues; unproven beyond the 2013 NCAA tournament

 

*New Missouri coach Kim Anderson made headlines this week by adding former Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff. Fulford was Andrew Wiggins' high school coach. One of the main questions about Anderson when Missouri hired him was whether he'd be able to recruit. Fulford and Frank Haith holdover Tim Fuller will be a nice one-two punch.

*The best player I saw at last week's NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia, was Ben Simmons, the 6'9" power forward who has committed to LSU. Simmons, who grew up in Australia, is a rising senior.

Simmons' ability to put the ball on the floor and his relentlessness on the offensive glass is what separated him from his competitors. He plays with such fire and passion and energy, but he's also very skilled. LSU should be a force in two years with Simmons, Jordan Mickey (assuming he's still around), Josh Gray and Jarell Martin.

 

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

*The second-best prospect I saw at the camp was 7'1" center Thon Maker, who is as much of a threat from the perimeter as he is in the paint. Rarely do you see a 7-footer with a small forward's skill set.

As of now Maker is a member of the class of 2016, but after speaking with him, I won't be surprised at all if he reclassifies to 2015, which means he could be preparing for his freshman season a year from now. Maker took unofficial visits to Kansas and Missouri this week and is also considering Duke and Kentucky, among others.

 

Random Musings/Food

*NBC's Rob Dauster and I had some time to kill one afternoon in Charlottesville last week, so we found a movie theater and saw 22 Jump Street.

I’m not quite ready to put it up there with Fletch, Caddyshack, Bachelor Party or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but it was easily one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. There were so many classic one-liners that I'll need to see it at least two more times, maybe three. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube were phenomenal—and Amber Stevens...um, wow.

 

Jason King

*My first trip to Seattle couldn't have gone any better. After just one day I had pretty much decided that Seattle was one of my top 10 favorite cities.

Maybe it was the 58-degree weather or the french fries (best I've ever had) at Altstadt or the corned beef sandwich and tater tots at The Chieftain Irish Pub and Restaurant or the huge $8 draws of Manny's at the Triangle Pub or all the fun I had playing bocce ball at Von Trapp's or the corny entrance routine of Mariners closer Fernando Rodney, or the fact that there was a King's Court section at Safeco Field with fans so friendly that I didn't even mind posing for pictures and signing autographs.

I even tried oysters at Elliott's Oyster House. That was way out of my comfort zone, but hey, I got 12 of 'em down and wasn't even that nauseated afterward. I'll be back, Seattle. I'll be back.

 

*I'll be spending the next three days in Los Angeles before heading to the Bay Area to cover Steph Curry's camp, which will feature the nation’s elite high school guards. Other than Halloween night in 2012 (oh, the stories...), I've spent virtually zero time in San Francisco.

And I haven't been to LA in two years. So hit me up with suggestions. My buddy is one of the owners of Big Wangs Wings and the Tipsy Cow, so at least two meals are set.

 

Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.

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