The impact of Kalin Bennett getting D1 basketball scholarship on the autism community

By Anthony Ianni | November 28, 2018

Anthony Ianni National Motivational Speaker  and the First Division One College Basketball Player in NCAA History with autism.


When I first heard the story about Kalin Bennett signing his national letter of intent for a Division 1 Basketball scholarship to Kent State University, I was very excited and happy for this wonderful young man. I quickly reached out to both him and his Mom and congratulated them both. I also told Kalin that any advice or guidance I can offer on how to balance that Student-Athlete life out, I would be there for him and his family. After I had graduated from Michigan State in 2012, every day I always wondered who will be the next person with autism to play Division 1 college basketball? Will who be the next person to join me and others in that category? That day has arrived once again. But when all the national headlines for Kalin got out there, there were a lot of supporters and fans of mine who came to my defense. While I am grateful for all the support and great comments I received, I would like to clear the air on some things with everyone before I get to the real point in this blog.

When Kalin signed his letter of intent for his basketball scholarship, he became the first person with autism to sign for a Division 1 Basketball Scholarship in NCAA History. Here’s where I want to clarify things for those asking questions. When I was being recruited by all levels in high school, including Michigan State who offered me to be a Walk-On right away, I chose to sign my letter of intent with Grand Valley State (Division 2 Scholarship), then I transferred to MSU where I was a Walk-on for two years and then awarded a scholarship my senior year. I’m still the first person with an autism diagnosis in NCAA History to play Division 1 basketball. HOWEVER, despite earning a scholarship at MSU, I never signed a letter of intent to play Division 1 basketball like Kalin did. So big difference between both of our accomplishments.

Now this is the part where I want everyone reading this blog and in society to pay attention to the most.  At the end of the day, it's not about who did what or who accomplished the most, it's much bigger than that. It’s about how myself, Jason J-Mac McElwain, Kalin Bennett, Justin Hansen(former football player at Colorado State with Asperger’s), Professional runner and gold medalist Mikey Brannigan, Armani Williams (First person with autism to drive in NASCAR) Tarik El-Abour (First MLB player with autism) and Walker Aurand (First ACHA D1 Hockey player with autism at Davenport University) have all laid the foundation down for others with autism to compete at the highest level in sports. We have shown families and others that are impacted by autism that you can do the impossible. We are the trailblazers for those who need hope, inspiration, and a path to get to those accomplishments through our stories and experiences. There are more athletes with autism out there in the world today and they have got talent and they want to play. But it's not just athletes, it's all individuals on the spectrum who have talented traits and they should all be applauded for their accomplishments and efforts!

It's time for society to wake up and realize that. It's time for society to recognize that our community of over 3.5 million people with autism in our country deserve to be recognized for the great things they are doing and will continue to do. Because I’ve got news for everyone, there are more trailblazers like us out there and they’re coming to break down even more barriers and obstacles. Myself and those other individuals that I named off will continue to blaze those trails on and off the court and be a light for those who need one, I can guarantee you that. Because it’s not about me…IT’S ABOUT US!

Autism Speaks Coaches Powering Forward will return during the weekend of February 15-17, 2019. Please contact Peter Morton if your school is interested in participating @

Autism Speaks does not provide medical or legal advice or services. Rather, Autism Speaks provides general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on our website is not a recommendation, referral or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal or educational professionals. Autism Speaks has not validated and is not responsible for any information, events, or services provided by third parties.

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