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The First College Basketball Player With Autism: Why Awareness Matters

This guest post is by Anthony Ianni, the first-ever individual with autism to ever play Division I Basketball. Are you a NCAA Basketball fan? Join us this weekend Feb 6-8th for Coaches Powering Forward for Autism where NCAA coaches, officals and broadcasters will be wearing our puzzle piece pin! Join our movement and fundraise for the cause at autismspeaks.org/coachpower. Is your team playing this weekend? Make sure to tweet at us using #AutismHoops to join the movement on social media!

Last year we all witnessed the first year of Autism Awareness Day in College Hoops for an entire weekend. Autism Hoops was very special to me because being the first NCAA Division One ball player diagnosed with autism, it showed how much more awareness is being done for autism not just at the NBA level but on the college scene. To be able to see Coach Izzo, my college coach, wear the Autism Speaks puzzle piece pin in support of Autism Awareness made me feel very good not just because he is representing one of his former players with autism, but he’s also representing all families and individuals with autism.

It wasn’t just Tom Izzo donning the pin, it was other coaches from Jim Boehiem, Bo Ryan, Coach K, Bill Self and Rick Pitino. That right there folks is a great group of college coaches creating awareness for Autism and it truly is very special to see them getting behind this great awareness of ours. When you have a powerful group of coaches like that, I’m very certain that there will be even more and more participants for years to come for Autism Hoops.

Now moving forward to this weekend’s event “Coaches Powering Forward for Autism” event we should all be really excited. I know I asked myself after the event last year if this was something that would continue to be a yearly thing and I’m very happy to see that it is. The aftermath of last year’s awareness weekend made a huge impact on the autism community. Families and individuals seeing their favorite coaches and teams participating during the weekend made things even more exciting. It was also a chance for those folks to get to see other coaches around the country get involved for this great awareness and event. However it wasn’t just the coaches, but TV commentators, announcer’s and the different sports networks as well. It’s a team effort on everyone’s part to make sure that this Autism Hoops weekend will be one to remember.

This year’s Coaches Powering Forward for Autism I think will be one to remember for a long time to come. The one thing I love about this weekend is that it doesn’t matter whose team plays this weekend or what coach is wearing the puzzle pin. The one thing that matters the most is the fact that we are all on the same team this weekend. For some teams wins or loses will matter this weekend, especially for my Spartans who are in a race for the Big Ten Title, but I can tell you that there is one team that will be winning in a lot of ways this weekend. That team is the autism community. I’m proud to be a part of this great community of ours and the fact we have great coaches, colleges, announcers and sports networks getting behind Autism Awareness this weekend makes this an even bigger win for our community. Enjoy the weekend everyone and enjoy watching the games! 

Are you an NCAA basketball fan? Join Anthony for our "Coaches Powering Forward for Autism" campaign to raise awareness and funds for autism research and family services! More than 200 coaches have already signed up to participate in the campaign, which will culminate February 6 to 8. Throughout the weekend, coaches, officials and broadcasters will raise autism awareness by donning the blue Autism Speaks puzzle piece pin during college basketball games. Find out more info at autismspeaks.org/coachpower.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.