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Recouping for an Unexpected Future
Have you ever wondered, What if, for some reason, I didn’t get a paycheck for the work I did this week? Well imagine busting your tail to the limit at one thing your entire life, overcoming health adversity for the sake of continuing the job, all in hope of having it pay off in millions in the long run—only to find out days before your pay day that the check you were expecting for years simply cannot be given to you.
But it was so much more than a paycheck to Baylor’s former NBA prospect Isaiah Austin.
When in middle school, Austin was unexpectedly struck in his right eye with a baseball. The retina loose, it was left vulnerable to tearing or ripping. In the eighth grade, on a dunk attempt before a game, he’d aggravated it again. He underwent multiple operations on his detached retina to fix his vision, but it was too late. The damage was done, and there was no answer. He would come to accept the fact that he would never be able to see out of his right eye again.
Other than the fact that he’d have to wear goggles to protect his last functioning eye, along with his easily detachable right eye from being gouged from its socket, Austin truly had no worries as far as keeping his playing career chugging on.
By the time Austin was a senior in high school, not only had he sprouted up to seven feet, he’d crafted himself into one of the premiere big men in the country. ESPN even had him as the #1 center in the class of 2012. NBA scouts drooled. College coaches stuffed his mailbox with letters. A year later he was starting at center for the Baylor Bears, all the while coping with one-eyed vision.
In his first two years at Baylor, he led his team to a 49-26 record and Sweet Sixteen appearance his sophomore year. That year, Austin averaged 11 points and almost six rebounds, but it was his unmatched ability to protect the rim and swat shots (three per game) that really set him apart, ultimately boosting his draft stock. He was projected to be a late first round pick. That was until the news broke.
“Isaiah Austin Diagnosed with Career-Ending Condition,” the headlines read. Completely irrelevant to the eye issue, the Marfan syndrome Austin had been diagnosed with was a case of enlarged arteries in the heart. If he were to push himself too hard, his heart could rupture.
The NBA Draft was in four days, and teams’ GMs had their fair share of tissues before scurrying to change their draft day plans. The following day, Austin sat down for his first interview since the reports had spread, leaving America stunned.
“I had a dream that my name was going to be called,” Austin said through eyes holding back waterfalls, sniffles, and a shaken voice. After all, his life plans had been shaken, his future seemed jumbled, and he now knew he’d never be able to physically exert himself the way he’d trained himself to do his entire life without that entire life now being at stake. Baylor’s coaching staff was quick to offer directions to their former center, a very lost kid at the time.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said he hopes Austin will return to Baylor to get his degree and eventually join the coaching staff. Since then, Austin has certainly taken that option to heart.
“I’m going to enjoy my time with my family, my loved ones,” Austin said, “and I’m going to go back to school and get my degree.”
Something was still missing; his dream had yet to be fulfilled. That is, of course, until Thursday night. Between the 15th and 16th picks in that night’s NBA Draft, Isaiah Austin was drafted.
“Like the other young men here tonight, Isaiah committed himself through endless hard work and dedication to a potential career as a professional basketball player, and we wanted to make sure he fulfilled at least this part of his dream,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at the podium. “So give me great pleasure to say that with the next pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the NBA selects Isaiah Austin, Baylor University.”
In a building known for years to be a hostile environment of boos and unpleasant jeers during the night of the draft every June, the sentiment instantly became the opposite. The entire crowd came to their feet in an all-out standing ovation. Tears were shed, hands were clapped, and respect was sincerely given. This was a pick every fan could agree was a good one.
Isaiah Austin, thank you for setting the example. Now it’s not only the shot-blocking ability that has set you apart; it’s the mental strength that you, cancer patients, and anyone battling serious illnesses seem to possess. Thank you for rising above—persevering through the hardships, changing course when health veers the road of life away from your initial plans, and making the most of your new journey down that unexpected turn in the road.
A standing ovation is the least we can do.