The Start of Something New: Autism Awareness in College Basketball

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 View Comments Anthony Ianni

This guest post is from Anthony Ianni, an adult with autism who played college basketball at Michigan State University for Coach Tom Izzo. Anthony shares his perspective on last weekend's Autism Awareness Day in College Basketball

As a motivational speaker for autism and Anti-bullying I have seen and heard a lot of things that have made me proud to do what I love to do every day. Examples are thank you letters from parents, students, teachers, along with personal letters from students who have been bullies saying that they’re apologizing to the people they hurt and will never do it again. It’s the things like that make me proud of doing what I love to do. However this past weekend in college basketball made me even more proud as an athlete, advocate and someone with autism.

All of college basketball raising awareness for autism. 88 coaches around the country, including Coach K of Duke, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, John Thompson III of Georgetown, and my coach from Michigan State Tom Izzo all wearing the blue puzzle piece on their sports coats. It gave me chills down my spine, but it wasn’t just the coaches participating. Every analyst from CBS, ESPN, College Gameday and Fox Sports all had a part in what was a very special day for all people with autism and advocates.

Becoming the first college basketball player with autism in the Big Ten Conference and in the NCAA is one of the proudest achievements in my life. #AutismHoops, however, had a very special meaning to me. Not only because it was for autism awareness, but my coach Tom Izzo was a part of it. He is one of the reasons why I am the person that I am today. The one thing I’ve always loved about coach isn’t the fact that he’s the best coach in all of college basketball, but a great mentor as well.

When I was going through some times in my life, whether it was personal, school, or basketball related he was the one who pointed me in the right direction. He’s always known about me being on the autism spectrum and how doctors and medical specialists told my parents when I was 5 years old I’d barlely graduate from high school, never graduate from college or even become an athlete. He’s always wanted me to prove those people wrong and go on to graduate from Michigan State. Even when I was at Grand Valley State for two years, he always told me no matter where I went I would always be a Spartan. The highlight of my graduation ceremony at MSU wasn’t just getting my bachelor’s degree, but seeing Coach Izzo waiting for me by the stage to hug and congratulate me. On the court Tom Izzo is the best coach in America, but off the court he’s one terrific mentor and person to be around.

#AutismHoops is something that I know made a lot people who are affected by autism, have a huge smile on their face. To see the sport that I love and have a passion for, spread awareness for autism made my weekend. The smile that was on my face while I was watching college basketball last Saturday never came off and my heart was melting the whole day because of how special this day was. I hope this is something that college basketball will continue to do every year for autism awareness. I hope to get involved with #AutismHoops next year in some way, whether it’s speaking to teams or coaches about autism and the awareness that they’re giving for millions of people all over the country who are affected by autism. This past weekend was indeed a great victory for autism everywhere around the world, and this isn’t the end for #AutismHoops. Without question awareness for autism in college basketball is indeed the start of something new.  

You can learn more about Anthony's story on our blog here. To read more on our #AutismHoops coverage you can find a recap here