A FORMER NBA prospect who three years ago thought that he could never play competitive basketball again now has a shot at playing at the international stage for a country that is welcoming him with open arms.
Isaiah Austin, once diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder in his heart, is Gilas Pilipinas’ newest naturalized player prospect and he’s set to play for the Chooks to Go-backed squad in the Fiba Asia Champions Cup in China next week.
The former Baylor stalwart, a projected late first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before being diagnosed of his illness that forced him to stop playing, is set to arrive on Tuesday night ahead of the team’s first official practice on Wednesday night.
“We wanted to take a look at Isaiah Austin, not only his skills, his game, but how he’ll get along with his teammates,” national coach Chot Reyes said after the team’s first unofficial practice on Monday night. “We wanted to get a better idea of his attitude, so nothing gives you a glimpse of a player’s attitude more than going into an actual tournament out of the country with that player.”
“We want to take a look if he would be a good prospect for a naturalized player for us,” he added.
Reyes said they’ve had their eye on the 7-foot-1 Austin since his college days, believing the Fresno, California native, who turns 24 next month, a perfect fit for Gilas with his disruptive length and outside shooting.
“We’ve kept tabs on Isaiah since he was college, because he has the type of skillset that we’re looking for for the national team,” Reyes said. “We’re looking for a tall guy who has an outside shot and can be a rim protector, and that’s why Andray Blatche is such a special player for us.
“When we saw Isaiah, we thought that he had perfectly the skillset…You know that we’ve been looking at Javale McGee for the longest time,” he added. “In Isaiah, we have a Javale McGee with a three-point shot.”
Austin’s genetic disease forced him to stop playing, before he was cleared to play against late last year, making his emotional comeback with a Serbian team then with a Chinese team, before reviving talks with Gilas two months ago.
“Unfortunately, he was declared ineligible, but when he was cleared and we reconnected, he sent his passport and his birth certificate right away, and this has been two months past,” Reyes said. “As soon as he was cleared, we’ve already been in touch, but we’ve kept it under wraps for obvious reasons.
“He played in Serbia, and then now his commitment in China has ended, so perfect situation for us to bring him over,” he added. “The day that we connected with him, he sent his passport and birth certificate already to us, so he’s very interested.”
The feeling is definitely mutual, especially if he’s good as advertised.