Health & Environment

First Division I Basketball Player With Autism Shares Message At Annual Conference

March 2, 2017

Former Michigan State center Anthony Ianni is the first Division I basketball player in NCAA history with autism. (Photo courtesy of the College of Education and Human Development)
By Ashley Green, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

His drive to overcome every obstacle in his life has made him one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the country. Over the weekend, Anthony Ianni shared his message with parents and families in the Bryan/College Station area at this year’s Success for Today and Tomorrow Conference, sponsored in part by the Center on Disability and Development in the College of Education and Human Development.

Ianni is the first Division I basketball player in NCAA history with autism. He was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder at the age of four. Doctors and specialists told Ianni’s parents he would barely graduate from high school, would never attend college and would likely live in a group institution for his adult life.

“I wasn’t told this story until my freshman year of high school. It became my motivation to prove those people and any other doubters and naysayers that they had my life wrong,” said Ianni.

Ianni went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Michigan State University. While at Michigan State, Ianni also helped the Spartans men’s basketball team win a Big 10 Championship and play in the Final Four.

Ianni credits his success to the support of not only his family and friends but also his head coach at Michigan State, Tom Izzo. For Ianni, Izzo is a life saver. In 2011, Ianni’s uncle was murdered and his priorities in life changed. His schoolwork began to suffer and he was close to giving up. After an outburst during a team meeting, Ianni had a heart-to-heart with Coach Izzo.

“He told me that if I stayed on the path I was on then those doctors were going to be right. All the doubters and haters I had in life would be right. He told me I needed to walk out of his office with a mindset I hadn’t had in a long time. He wanted me to be hungrier for success than I have been my entire life,” explained Ianni.

That night, Ianni changed his priorities. He had his greatest year academically and helped Michigan State win the Big 10 Championship.

Because of his determination to never give up and his continued successes, Ianni has pledged his life and career to help others across the country that are facing similar challenges. That is what brought him to the Brazos Valley to share his message.

“Self-advocates are truly some of the most powerful and impactful speakers because of their ability to share their stories and communicate what was and is important to them in reaching their goals,” said Meagan Sumbera, associate director of the Center on Disability and Development. “Navigating the disability world and grappling with the difficult decisions along the way is something that these families currently face and will continue to face in the future. We wanted to bring Anthony to the Brazos Valley to lift up these families by sharing his positive message and providing a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for those who feel like they’ve lost hope.”

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The Success for Today and Tomorrow Conference gives families of those with disabilities an up close look at resources available in the Bryan/College Station area. A partnership with the Center on Disability and Development, Bryan ISD and College Station ISD, the conference focuses on organizations from public education to health resources to family and support agencies.

“Probably the most powerful aspect of the conference was the collaboration among family groups, local and statewide agencies, school districts, our university center and the community to coordinate and host this event. We hope to serve as an example of interagency collaboration and the benefits of coming together as leaders in the community to truly meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and those who support them,” explained Sumbera.

“Talking to all of the representatives from agencies throughout the Brazos Valley was great. Having worked for College Station ISD for 13 years, I was not aware of many of the post-high school resources out there,” added an educational diagnostician who attended the conference to learn more about community resources for people with disabilities.

For more information on the conference and the Center on Disability and Development, visit


This story by Ashley Green was originally posted on Transform Lives.

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