Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - With the NBA Draft rapidly approaching, the pool of available big men has taken a major hit.
Of course the biggest of those has come from Joel Embiid's camp. The former Kansas center, who was projected by many to go No. 1 overall, already had health concerns swirling around him after he missed the last seven games of this past season with a back injury.
Now Embiid's draft stock is likely to drop once again, as it was revealed late last week that the 7-foot center had a stress fracture in his right foot that required surgery. It is estimated that his recovery will take at least 4-6 months.
The development likely opens the door for teammate Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker to slot into the first two draft positions, and could even push Embiid out of the top five.
However, the news about Embiid takes a backseat to the terrible situation facing former Baylor center Isaiah Austin.
Being considered a serious NBA Draft prospect is a rare accomplishment. According to a 2012 report by the NCAA, of the 535,289 high school student athletes to play basketball, a mere 0.03 percent went on to be drafted into the professional ranks.
Austin seemingly beat those odds and, after two years of hard work and strong play with the Bears, was in position to hear his name called on Thursday night in Brooklyn.
Unfortunately for the 7-foot-1 center, his fortunes changed for the worse this past weekend when he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a career-ending medical condition that has squashed his dream before it was ever realized.
According to the Marfan Foundation, the syndrome is a "genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue", with the most common areas affected being the heart, blood vessels, bones, joints and eyes.
In an emotional interview with ESPN, Austin explained that tests in preparation for the NBA Draft revealed that his arteries and heart were enlarged, and that extended physical activity could lead to a rupture.
The news is obviously devastating for the 20-year-old, who was projected to go somewhere in the late first or early second round of the draft. Like most players to reach the upper echelon of college basketball, Austin's life has been centered on the game he loves for so long, making such an abrupt end to his career tough to swallow.
However, although the professional route is no longer an option, Austin is fortunate to have found out about this condition prior to the grueling process he would face to make an NBA roster. It may seem like a pittance in the immediate aftermath, but in the long run preserving his life is obviously more important than fulfilling his dream of playing what is after all, a game, as a profession. Basketball, while it may appear to be around March, is not a life and death affair. Austin's health obviously is.
To his credit Austin has shown a great deal of strength in the days following the bitterly disappointing diagnosis.
"Words can't explain how thankful I am for the time I had to play this wonderful sport. It changed my life forever. #NewBeginnings," Austin tweeted on Sunday.
It should come as no surprise that Austin would take such a determined and positive approach to dealing with the news. After all, he played through much of his later years with partial blindness, as he could not see out of his right eye due to a detached retina.
Any shortcomings that might have been expected from a player with such a disadvantage never came to light for Austin. He averaged 12.1 ppg during his two seasons in Waco, and also led the Big 12 in blocks as a sophomore (3.1 bpg). That type of production along with his desirable 7-1 frame made Austin one of the more intriguing frontcourt options in this year's group of draft prospects.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew was quick to not only show his vocal support for his former player, but to shed light on the positives that Austin still has in his life.
"This is devastating news, but Isaiah has the best support system anyone could ask for, and he knows that all of Baylor Nation is behind him," Drew said in a statement released by Baylor. "His health is the most important thing, and while it's extremely sad that he won't be able to play in the NBA, our hope is that he'll return to Baylor to complete his degree and serve as a coach in our program."
In the grand scheme of things, Austin clearly has many things still to be thankful for, even if it may not feel like it right now.