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Diagnosis Ends Promising NBA Career Before It Starts For Arlington's Isaiah Austin


Isaiah Austin, a Baylor basketball star who’s from Arlington, learned just a few days before this week's NBA draft that his career is over. Predraft testing revealed that Austin has Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue.

Austin had been projected as a late-first-round pick in Thursday's draft. 

About Isaiah Austin

Baylor’s athletic website reports:

A 7-foot-1 center from Arlington, Austin revealed during his sophomore season that he is blind in his right eye as a result of a detached retina suffered as a teenager. He was expected to be the first to ever play in the NBA while partially blind. Austin played two seasons at Baylor before declaring for the 2014 NBA Draft. He played in 73 games (72 starts) and averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 28.9 minutes per game. Austin finished his Baylor career tied for second on the school's all-time blocked shots list with 177, and his 119 blocks as a sophomore led the Big 12 Conference. Baylor went a combined 49-26 during his two-year career, winning the 2013 NIT Championship and advancing to the 2014 NCAA Sweet 16.


"This is devastating news, but Isaiah has the best support system anyone could ask for, and he knows that all of Baylor Nation is behind him," head coach Scott Drew said in a statement released by Baylor. "His health is the most important thing, and while it's extremely sad that he won't be able to play in the NBA, our hope is that he'll return to Baylor to complete his degree and serve as a coach in our program."

Austin appeared on ESPN over the weekend to discuss the diagnosis. "The draft is four days away, and I had a dream that my name was going to be called," Austin told ESPN.

On his Twitter page, Austin wrote:

Credit Matthew Minard / Baylor Marketing Communications
Baylor Marketing Communications
Isaiah Austin, on the right, was on the court in March against Wisconsin in the NCAA's Sweet 16.

What is Marfan Syndrome?

The Marfan Foundation says:

Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue. Connective tissue holds all the body’s cells, organs and tissue together. It also plays an important role in helping the body grow and develop properly. … Because connective tissue is found throughout the body, Marfan syndrome can affect many different parts of the body, as well. Features of the disorder are most often found in the heart, blood vessels, bones, joints, and eyes. … About 1 in 5,000 people have Marfan syndrome, including men and women of all races and ethnic groups. About 3 out of 4 people with Marfan syndrome inherit it, meaning they get the genetic mutation from a parent who has it. But some people with Marfan syndrome are the first in their family to have it; when this happens it is called a spontaneous mutation.

Signs of Marfan Syndrome

According to the Marfan Foundation:

Many of the signs of Marfan syndrome are easy to see. These include long arms, legs and fingers, tall and thin body type, curved spine, chest sinks in or sticks out, flexible joints, flat feet, crowded teeth, and stretch marks on the skin that are not related to weight gain or loss. Harder to detect signs of Marfan syndrome include heart problems, especially those related to the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Other signs can include sudden lung collapse and eye problems, including severe nearsightedness, dislocated lens, detached retina, early glaucoma, and early cataracts. Special tests are often needed to detect these features.  

More from the Marfan Foundation

The Marfan Foundation released a statement lauding the NBA for using a screening that detects Marfan Syndrome: “People with Marfan syndrome can live a long life if they are diagnosed and treated with medication and, when necessary, surgery. Competitive and contact sports need to be halted to protect the fragile aorta. Otherwise, it is prone to tear and possibly rupture, which would cause sudden death,” said Carolyn Levering, president and CEO of The Marfan Foundation. “While it is disappointing for Isaiah that he cannot pursue a career in the NBA, receiving the diagnosis before a fatal episode is truly a gift. With the diagnosis and treatment, he can live a long, productive life.”

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.