WACO, Texas (AP) — Isaiah Austin’s attempt to play in the NBA despite his partial blindness has ended because of a rare genetic disorder that affects his heart.
The former Baylor center, who left school early to enter this week’s NBA draft, has been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissue.
Baylor made the announcement Sunday. The condition was discovered during a physical for the draft, which is Thursday.
According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from Marfan syndrome can weaken the aorta, the artery that supplies blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
“They told me that my arteries in my heart are enlarged and that if I overwork myself or push too hard that my heart could rupture,” Austin said in a brief interview with ESPN, his voice halting as he fought back tears. “The draft is four days away and I had a dream that my name was going to be called.”
The 7-foot-1 center declared for the draft after his sophomore season, in which he averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds on a Baylor team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Wisconsin, a Final Four qualifier.
During his final season with the Bears, Austin revealed that he had a prosthetic right eye after multiple operations couldn’t repair a detached retina. The eye was damaged when a previous injury was aggravated doing a routine dunk before a middle school game.
“For all my supporters, I just want to tell them I’m sorry,” Austin told ESPN, which broke the story of his partial blindness in January. “I’m sorry they couldn’t see me play in the NBA. To my fans, it’s not the end. It’s only the beginning.”
The Dallas-area player was never dominant in two college seasons, but his shooting ability at his size made him an intriguing draft option. His scoring and rebounding averages dropped in his final season, though he started 72 of 73 games for the Bears.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said he hopes Austin will return to Baylor to get his degree and eventually join the coaching staff.
“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,” Drew said. “His health is the most important thing.”
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