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McCollum's Column: How NBA and Isaiah Austin rebounded from devastating news

Posted: June 27, 2014 - 6:02pm

In one roller-coaster few days, Isaiah Austin lived a dream, saw a dream shattered, then began a new dream.

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave him a golden moment.

Austin left Baylor after his sophomore season to enter the NBA draft, a projected high second-round choice.

Days before the draft, a blood test revealed Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the heart. It ended his pro basketball dreams.

Austin, a 7-footer who was a catalyst on some of the most successful teams in Baylor history, had already experienced adversity. He revealed during the season that he was without vision in one eye because of a detached retina in childhood that required four surgeries.

Courageously, he became one of the top players in the nation. He was set to become the first NBA player to play with the use of one eye.

Then, he was blindsided by an event that, ironically, may have saved his life.

Had he not entered the NBA draft and gone through the required physical, he might have collapsed on court and died during a game. It could have happened in college.

Now, he has a bigger mission.

“I have a whole life ahead of me,” Austin said during a news conference after the draft. “I’m not going to sit here and I’m not going to sulk about not being able to play basketball anymore, because I can still be involved with the game somehow or some way.”

Baylor officials said they will allow him to return to college, complete his degree and possibly later serve as an assistant coach, a great mentor for young men.

But first, in one of the classiest moves ever by a pro league, Silver gave him a dream moment.

Between the 15th and 16th picks in the first round Thursday night, Silver, his stock rapidly rising among sports power figures, announced that the NBA was drafting Austin. The commissioner gave Austin the chance to have his name called and approach the stage to a rousing standing ovation, the highlight of the draft.

It was not what he had planned but it was a dream moment.

“Just being around all the draftees and seeing my friends get drafted, it just brings joy in my heart because I know how hard we work to get to this point,” Austin said. “I’ve been through it. ... Just to see how people persevere through their own problems, because everybody has their own problems. It’s touching and it’s heart-warming, really.”

After an interview Friday on “Good Morning America,” Robin Roberts said that Austin was one of the most incredible people she has ever met during a career of meeting incredible people.

“I want people to know they can push through anything, because I’ve done it,” Austin said. “I just want them to know they have the power within themselves to do it if they keep faith and a positive attitude.”

Austin’s attitude has been built on family and faith.

His mother said, “You can do two things when something like this happen. You can make excuses or you can make it your story.”

And Isaiah Austin’s story is not complete.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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