Former MSU basketball player Anthony Ianni serves as an inspiration to anyone with mental illness

For anyone who has a mental illness, have you ever thought: What would my life be like without it?

Anthony Ianni, who was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder when he was 4 years old, said, even if he could be cured of autism, he wouldn't do it.

“A lot of people think I’m crazy when I say I’m proud I have autism. But I’m very proud of it. I represent a community of 3.5 million people in our country. And I’m proud to represent that community every day," he said. “Autism made me into who I am."

How many of you can say that? Or do you, instead, try to hide your mental illness?

Anthony serves as an inspiration to all of us. He shows that mental illness isn't something to be ashamed of. He has become successful despite, and even because of, his autism and has dedicated his life to helping others with similar diagnoses.

Anthony, who now travels around the state as an anti-bullying motivational speaker, was told by doctors that he was barely going to graduate high school, was never going to go to college, was never going to be an athlete, and that he would probably live out his adult years in a group institution.

But the doctors were wrong.

Anthony was the first ever Division I college basketball player in NCAA history with autism. He played for MSU coach Tom Izzo, won two Big Ten Championships and a Big Ten Tournament Title, was the recipient of the 2011 Tim Bograkos Walk On Award and the 2012 Unsung Player Award, and was a member of the 2010 Final Four team.

"But I think I’m even more proud of the fact that I graduated and got my bachelor’s degree in sociology from Michigan State University," said Anthony.

"Throughout my life, I’ve overcome challenges and obstacles that were bigger and greater than myself. And I’m six-foot-nine with a size 18 shoe. So all of those challenges and obstacles that were thrown at me in life, they were definitely twice as big and twice as tall as I’ll ever be in my entire lifetime."

I was lucky to meet Anthony a few months ago. My job brought him in to speak at one of our leadership events. When he talked about sports, it was all Greek to me (sorry, Anthony!) but we spoke the same language when it came to raising awareness of mental illness.

“Some people look at autism as a label, that it means someone is useless. But everybody has a label. … I have six (labels). Husband. Father. Michigan State Spartan. Motivational speaker. College basketball player. And I have autism," he said. “I think we all need to learn that we’re different. But at the same time, we can help each other get through the tough times."

For those of you who may be struggling with mental illness and think, "Oh, if only I didn't have this diagnosis, I could achieve so much more," hopefully Anthony's story gives you hope. Maybe he had to work harder than everyone else, but that didn't stop him from striving toward and achieving his dreams. Instead of futilely wishing to be "normal," Anthony used his diagnosis to help thousands of others going through the same things.

And Anthony, who now works for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and is a husband and father of two young boys — I can't wait to see all the goals you will achieve in the future and how many more people's lives, like mine, you will impact!

For more information about Anthony, visit

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