Taking a stand with former Michigan St. alum Anthony Ianni

Everyone has a story. For Anthony Ianni, his story goes beyond the basketball court. Anthony was diagnosed with autism and many doctors believed that he would not be able to live a normal life. Anthony set out to prove people wrong, but it didn’t come without obstacles. He was bullied for being different, but that didn’t stop Anthony from chasing his goals and dreams. Anthony became the first Division I basketball player in NCAA history with autism. He transferred to Michigan St. and played under coach Tom Izzo. He played for some really good teams while in college and after his playing days were over he became a motivational speaker.

I first heard of Anthony’s story from friend and Michigan St. alum Kevin Negron. Kevin shared with me that everyone knew Anthony, that he was a fan favorite, and he had a special story. I reached out to Anthony about his story and I also got to ask him some questions about Michigan St. basketball.

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Photo of Kevin Negron and Anthony Ianni at Michigan St. Both are MSU alumni.

From what I’ve read Coach Izzo was a role model for you. What is your relationship with him like?

Ianni: Coach Izzo and I have a very good relationship. Like with all of his players, current or former, he always has my back on things and he’s always checking in on me to make sure things are going well and that my speaking career is still going well. He separates himself from other coaches just by the relationships he’s developed with his players and the family atmosphere that he’s created not only at our program, but throughout the university.

You were on some great teams during your time at Michigan State. Last guy off the bench that all the MSU fans knew. Describe the atmosphere in the Berslin Center and your time on the team.

Ianni: There’s no other college basketball atmosphere that compares to the Breslin Center. It’s our student section, “The Izzone”, that makes the atmosphere at the Breslin so crazy and above every other place in the country. That’s including other places UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. We have, in my opinion, the best fans in the country and they’re the reason why playing at the Bres is so tough to play at. As far as my time in the program, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It was always my dream to play at Michigan State and be on scholarship. Both of those things were able to happen for me and I’m incredibly blessed for the opportunity I got to wear that jersey. Every time I put on my jersey I took a lot of pride in it because I knew that playing for the name on the front was a heck of a lot more important than the one on the back. In my opinion, there’s not a person who took more pride in wearing the Green and White more than I did.

You played on the same team with Draymond Green. How was he as a teammate and did you see him becoming a star like he is today?

Ianni: Day Day was an incredible teammate. There’s a reason why in my opinion he’s one of the greatest leaders in the program’s history. He treated others around him with respect and he always had everyone’s back. Whether you were a coach, player or team manager he was there for you. That’s the one thing people don’t see with him today because all they see is what he does on the court, but if you got to know him off the court, he’d be your favorite right away. I knew just from playing against him in practice and seeing how hard he worked, I knew he was going to do great things in the NBA. Right when he was taken in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, I quickly thought to myself that the other teams that passed up on him, are quickly going to regret it.

Now lets move on to your person life. You were diagnosed with Autism at a young age and doctors told your parents you wouldn’t graduate, become an athlete, and believed eventually you would have to live in a group home. You were also bullied for being different when you were younger. How did you overcome all the bullying and limitations you were given?

I endured a lot of bullying and disrespect from a lot of people when I was in school. A lot of the bullying was because of my autism, I would say and do things different than others, and my height was another reason because I was six feet tall and wore a size 13 shoe at 11 years old. No matter how tough things would get, I would just let my actions to the talking for me because I was taught to never use my hands, feet or words. Just let my actions do the talking for me and that’s what I did.

Autism is very big today and there is still a lot we don’t know about it. Did you have to step outside of your comfort zone to play basketball and become a motivational speaker?

Ianni: Early on in my basketball days, I had to step out of my comfort zone because I was a shy kid and I knew that I had to get along with my teammates and play a team game. As far as motivational speaking goes, I never had to step out of my comfort zone or anything of that matter because I knew that this is where I belong and this is what I wanted to do. Plus playing in front of big crowds in college help me get used to speaking/performing to crowds as a speaker.

Today you are a motivational speaker across the country and an anti-bully advocate. Tell us about what you do and is this something you always wanted to do? What would your message be to children with Autism or disabilities whose goals or dreams still might be limited by others?

Ianni: So I’m a National Motivational Speaker and I do all of my work through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. I’m on the road at most 5 days a week and I speak to schools, colleges/universities, conferences, business and sports teams about my life with autism. I do speeches on different topics such as Autism, bullying, transitioning and motivational talks. So some people might just think I’m only an Anti-Bullying speaker, but I’m actually more then that and I wanted to be more then a one dimensional speaker. At first being a speaker wasn’t even on my list of what I wanted to do after college. I actually wanted to work in NCAA athletics just like my father has for over 30 years.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

How sweet it is: Cornell’s run to the Sweet 16 and more with Jeff Foote

For those who love March Madness, live for the upsets, in 2010 Cornell did that with their run to the Sweet 16. Cornell plays in the Ivy League, where at the time the winner of league play received an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Cornell won the Ivy League three year in a row (2008, 2009, and 2010). In 2008 and 2009, Cornell lost in the first round of the tournament, but you could tell that something special was brewing. In 2010, Cornell finished 29-5 overall and 13-1 in conference, and upset Temple and Wisconsin before losing to Kentucky. I talked with former Big Red center Jeff Foote about his career, his time at Cornell, and the magical run they had.

You played at Cornell for 3 years after redshirting and transferring from St. Bonaventure your freshman year. Describe your time at Cornell playing under coach Donahue.

Foote: Playing for Coach D was awesome. He worked hard to build up a good culture and brought in guys that really built on top of each other and fed off each others success. When I transferred in, the first thing I noticed was the difference in the feel and the dynamic of the team. There was a lot of very healthy competition, and it was fueled by the older guys. They constantly challenged everything in practice, the weight room, and off the court. The team was a lot closer. That continued to develop and with each incoming class it became tighter. We wanted to be around each other and were genuinely best friends.

From a playing and scheme perspective, coach Donahue may be the best X’s and O’s coaches I have ever played for. I think our offensive efficiency and numbers as a team can attest to that. He also did a great job of tailoring the offense to the personnel. If you go back and watch the three years I played, each year our offense was different. Some of the overarching concepts were similar (get good open 3’s, play with spacing, beat teams with timing and movement), but the ins and outs were much different. My first year I came off the bench, and the offense revolved around our guard play (Louis, Gore, and Witt mostly) with two big guys who could shoot and space the floor (Kreef and JHart). My second year though, the offense started changing due to necessity. Louis went down, Gore went down, teams were keying off on Witt, and Ski was just a freshman still learning the offense. Meanwhile I had gotten bigger and stronger and was more confident, so the offense started to flow through me a little more. Then my final year, we had been together so long that the offense was extremely versatile. Louis could take over, Witt, myself, Reeves, etc..I think a further testament to Coach D was his decision to bring Jon into games more while Alex was battling injuries, and upon recognizing the tremendous effect he had on the game (Jon shot a very high percentage from three and spaced the opposing defenses so much) to eventually start him.

You made the NCAA Tournament each year you were there. In 2008 and 2009, you lost in the first round of the tournament, but 2010 you reached the Sweet 16. Cornell was ranked #12 and you guys upset #5 Temple and then #4 Wisconsin. 

How were you guys prepared so well for each game being the underdogs from the Ivy League Conference that only gets one bid to the tournament? Describe the emotions and feelings that went on with you and your team after each win.

Foote: With regard to your second question’s first part, we were prepared so well because we were seasoned. The first two tournament losses (the stomping we received by Stanford and the closer, but still beating we took from Mizzou) prepared us for the atmosphere and the questions/media/distractions. We were going in loose, focused, and hungry. We had all talked in the preseason, and the seniors on the team knew it would be our last shot at something great, so we all pushed each other to get into the best shape, get better, and stay motivated throughout the year. We had some absolute battles in preseason, and the competitive fire in each of us led to our games being very high quality. We hated to lose, and that included any pickup game, drill in practice, lifting competition,  and smash bros fights (video games). At the same time you had a brotherly dynamic. We loved each other, and had each other’s backs for everything. So because of this we grew tremendously and made our run.

As for the emotions after each win, there weren’t many right away honestly. There was certainly happiness and joy, but after each one we did not want to allow ourselves to lose any focus. It was a “Who’s next” mentality after the wins. I think there is a lot of nostalgia about those times now from everyone, but while it was going on it was more a drive to go as far as we could. However, I know that after the Kentucky loss there was a lot of emotion, a lot of us recognizing that we were done and that special group of guys wouldn’t get to play another game in the Cornell uniform anymore.

I have to mention your teammates Lou Dale, Ryan Whitman, and Jon Jacques etc., you guys really had something special. Tell me a little about that.

Foote: You mentioned myself, Lou, Jon, and Ryan for having something special, but it was much deeper than that. Us four, AT, Reeves, Dre, Max, Ski, Wire, Aro, Pete are a band of brothers, that still to this day talk on a daily basis. We have a major group chat, go visit each other often, and still cherish the brotherhood that we have.

You played in Israel, Spain, the NBA Developmental League, for the New Orleans Hornets, and Lithuania after you graduated from Cornell. You signed with a top Euroleague team Maccabi Tel Aviv and eventually earned a call up form the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA. What was that journey like?

Foote: As for my professional career, I bounced around a lot. I loved playing, but after my season in Lithuania and my back surgery, I couldn’t move the same. I played one more year in Springfield, but I knew my time was likely up. Following that I went to law school at the University of Miami, and during my 3 years I worked as a graduate assistant coach under Coach Jim Larranaga.

What do you do now? 

Foote: As for now, I work as an in-house counsel for a Real Estate Development Portfolio – Gator Investments. (owned primarily by fellow Cornell grad, James Goldsmith and his brother Bill)

Cornell was a team that shocked a lot of people in 2010, but for some it was no surprise what they accomplished. They were the first Ivy League team to make it to the Sweet 16, set an Ivy record with 29 wins, and were the top 3 point shooting team in the country.

 

Written by Tom Ballato

TBT: Team Challenge ALS

The past few years in the TBT (The Basketball Tournament) Tournament, we have seen Team Challenge ALS compete at the highest level. They came one basket away from taking down the now four time champions Overseas Elite to win the two million dollar prize. For those who don’t know what the TBT Tournament is, it is a 5 on 5 winner take all basketball tournament consisting of former college and NBA players and top overseas players.

Team Challenge ALS was created by Sean Marshall who played basketball at Boston College. While at Boston College, he roomed with Pete Frates, who was a baseball star at the college. Pete Frates was diagnosed with ALS at 27 years old and has done so much to raise awareness for this disease which includes creating the Ice Bucket Challenge with his friend Pat Quinn. He has raised millions dollars to help research and find a cure someday for ALS. Team Challenge ALS plays for Pete and all those living with ALS.

I have watched and rooted for Team Challenge ALS for the past couple of years and talked with Sean Marshall of the team to find out what they are all about.

You created and play for Team Challenge ALS because Pete Frates was your roommate at BC where you played in college. Besides him being a great athlete, could you describe Pete and your time with him in college. 

Marshall: I met Pete freshman year and we were friends throughout our four years there. He has always been someone who could change your mood in a positive way. If I was down he always found a way to turn that around and he has that affect on everyone. It doesn’t surprise met that he has done so much for ALS awareness because he’s the type of person that will accomplish what he set out to accomplish. I’m honored to play for someone so admirable.

You’ve been quoted as saying, “We play for a community”. How did you find a roster willing to sacrifice possibly earning money in the TBT Tournament for this great cause?

Marshall: Everyone that has played for our team I’ve hand selected and have a personal relationship with. That was my number one goal, was to form a team of great athletes but more importantly great character guys. Some of the guys on our team I’ve known for 15 years and it wasn’t a challenge to get them on board to represent something bigger than ourself.

What have you learned since creating this team about people living with ALS, your supporters, yourself, and others?

Marshall: The first year was an amazing journey making it all the way to the finals. Through the process we learned that the team was much bigger that just Pete. There were so many people that were connected to ALS that were supporting us and putting their hope in us. After the first year, it helped us realize that we had to involve more people in the ALS community. That’s why I came up with the idea to have different names of ALS patients on the back of our jerseys this year. The disease absolutely sucks and what I’ve learned is that these people are so strong to fight ALS. They inspire me with every story I hear. I’ll continue to put out a fighting team in their honor.

Will Team Challenge ALS return in 2019 and can we expect and roster additions?

Marshall: We are returning for 2019 TBT. We made the final 8 this year, but it was a major let down because we really felt we had a team to win it. We just didn’t click the same way we did the previous summer. At this point, we are not sure what additions we will be making, but I am sure that we will put together a team that people will be proud of.

You’ve played professionally overseas in Greece, France, Turkey, etc.. Where will you be playing this upcoming season and what do you expect to bring to the team?

Marshall: I have not signed with a team for this year yet. After sitting down with my wife, we decided that I would spend a little bit more time home this summer and signed later than I usually do. It’s a risk to pass up on jobs early, but I believe that everything works itself out the way it’s supposed to. I will sign soon when the right opportunity presents itself.

If you get a change go follow Team Challenge ALS @TMchallengeALS and donate to the cause they play for.

 

Written by Tom Ballato

Taylor King rides off into the sunset

Taylor King’s career has taken him all over the world, but it all started in California. A high school All-American, King was known for scoring and knocking down 3’s. He verbally committed to UCLA before his freshman year of college, de-commited, and wound up playing in Durham for Coach Mike Krzyzewski. After one season, King decided to transfer to Villanova and play for Coach Jay Wright. After sitting out a year, he only played one season before leaving the team due to personal reasons. King was going to play at USC, but decided to enroll in NAIA school Concordia University Irvine to finish his collegiate career. People often wonder why this highly touted recruit never stuck around, so I caught up with Taylor and asked him about his playing career.

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You scored over 3,000 points in high school, named a McDonald’s All-American, and Mr. Basketball State of California. What gave you the confidence to be such a prolific scorer with range at such a young age?

TK: I was big at a young age, I played the 5 (center) in elementary and middle school until I was 7th going into 8th grade. I was able to use both hands inside and be a great post player, left/right hand hook shots etc.. When I got to high school I knew I could shoot so shooting 3’s, off the dribble, posting up, getting to the foul line, rebounding (especially offensively), are all the ways I was able to score. I just had that killer mindset that no one could guard me no matter what.

You played one season at Duke before transferring to Villanova. After sitting out a year, you played one season at Villanova before leaving due to personal reasons and returned home. What was your time like at each of those schools?

TK: I enjoyed my time at both Duke and Villanova. I played for two hall of famers and it gave me a chance to play at the highest level of college hoops. I played and did ok at both places, had some big games, played in huge games, and to be in big time schools with lots of hype around those two programs was very special. It’s a brotherhood at both places and that was fun to be apart of and I still keep in contact with guys from both schools so it continues.

You had off the court problems, were away from basketball, and lost love of the game. What influenced you to go back to the sport you’ve played your entire life?

TK: When I left Villanova and came home, I was dealing with some family issues and personal issues. I was just in a bad way with myself and the game wasn’t really something I was feeling anymore. A few weeks past, maybe a month and I went to my high school Mater Dei and played pick up basketball. There were all pros there, guys who currently play in the NBA and overseas, and I killed it. I was the best player in the gym by far. My high school coach had a conversation with me and said I needed to play  and he would help get me connected with another college. I was going to attend USC, but that didn’t pan out so I ended up going to a powerhouse NAIA at Concordia University Irvine. I was first team All-American and did my thing over there and enjoyed it very much.

Your career overseas brought you to Canada, England, Taiwan, Japan, Iran, Lithuania, Mexico, Argentina, and the NBA G League. How would you say your career went?

TK: Yeah, I mean I played in all those countries, had stints in Iraq and China as well as those other countries. To say my career wasn’t short of crazy would be an understatement. Should I have been in the NBA? Absolutely should have, but I ended up in 11 different countries, over 4 continents, and saw parts of the world that most would only dream of seeing. To play the game I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into for a living is a great accomplishment in my eyes. So I am thankful for everything in my career.

You recently retired from basketball. In your Instagram post you said that your focus is to help younger athletes, go back and get your degree, and to be a good coach. Could you see yourself becoming a college coach eventually?

TK: I did recently retire, and started my own training company shooting coach/skill development etc.. I am an assistant high school coach at a great high school and also coach at a club AAU program as well. I am finishing my degree in January so I have a bunch of stuff going on. What I wanted to do is be a head coach in high school and if college coaching comes about then sure I wouldn’t mind.

 

It’s great to see Taylor retiring on his own terms. People can say what they want about his career, but it was nothing short of successful. You can check out Taylor’s training company at www.taylorkingbasketball.com.

 

Article written by Tom Ballato.

*Picture belongs to Taylor King.

 

Team USA and Stony Brook Alum: Jameel Warney

JWJameel Warney played at Stony Brook from 2012-2016. After going undrafted in 2016, Jameel has played for the Texas Legends an affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, Team USA at the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup where he was named MVP, signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks, and recently played in China in the NBL. He is home now and is currently a free agent. It was just announced in September 2018 that Jameel will participate for Team USA World Cup Qualifying Team’s training camp.


 

First off what made you choose Stony Brook?                                                               

I chose Stony Brook because of the family atmosphere they had. They also made me a priority since my sophomore year in high school. They went to all of my AAU games and most of my high school games, so it was without a doubt a good choice for me to go there.

This question is from a Stony Brook Alum. Your senior year, how was your team able to come back and win the American East, not only after the crushing loss to Albany the year before, but after being down to Vermont by double digits at the half?

I think the best part of the four years I was there. We grew a lot. We grew together as a team trying to accomplish a goal that was never accomplished at Stony Brook. Those two games were turning points for us. The loss to Albany was definitely a gut punch, but we knew how close we were to achieving our dreams so the following year we wouldn’t let anything come in between us and winning the championship.

What was Stony Brook’s 1st NCAA Tournament experience like?

It was definitely a great experience. Even though it was a short trip, we enjoyed ourselves and had the opportunity to play against Kentucky which was one of the best teams in the country.

The road you have taken to get where you are today, both through the G-League and Team USA how did that prepare you for the NBA?

It prepared me a lot. From playing in the G-league to Team USA, I learned a lot from the coaches and the players which I use to help me to be a better player now.

What was it like getting that call that you received a 10-day contract form Dallas?

It was an unbelievable experience to finally make it to the league. Even though it was a few days, I learned a lot from the Dallas Mavericks

Throughout your career, who are a few of your favorite teammates?

I loved all my teammates for my four years there. They are definitely people who I consider family and we still keep in touch to this day. My three favorite teammates would have to be Eric McAllister, Tyrell Sturdivant, and Scott King.

You are currently a free agent. Whats next?

I am still figuring that part out with my agent. We have a lot of options so right now. I’m just taking my time to enjoy the off-season and to get better.


Jameel has a chance to prove himself again with Team USA playing for Coach Jeff Van Gundy.  Hopefully this gives him enough exposure to get another call to play in the NBA again. He has proved himself once before, time will only tell, but Jameel Warney’s skillset is enough for him to have a role in the NBA.

It was awesome to talk to Jameel playing for Stony Brook on Long Island. He was the first person I reached out to for my blog. Great guy and he’s proven himself since we last saw him play for Stony Brook.

 

Article was written by Tom Ballato

**Note the picture used in this article is owned by Jameel Warney

St. John’s legend D’Angelo Harrison

D’Angelo Harrison in 2011 committed to St. John’s to play for coach Steve Lavin. Harrison was part of a great recruiting class that included Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene IV, Maurice Harkless, and Amir Garrett. His recruiting class and coach Steve Lavin brought the hype back to Queens. There were additions by subtractions along the way as Harkless bolted for the NBA after one season where he was a lottery pick and Amir Garrett played two seasons before starting his baseball career, while Jamal Branch transferred to St. John’s from Texas A&M. Coach Lavin brought in this class to get St. John’s back into the NCAA tournament. Each year, Harrison’s game improved, but the one thing missing was a trip to the NCAA tournament. In 2015, St.John’s received an at large bid to the NCAA tournament which was Harrison’s senior year.  They ended up losing to San Diego State, but just getting to the tournament was an accomplishment and a reward for all of the hard work that Harrison and company put in for four years.

Harrison was a prolific scorer at St. John’s and is one of the best players to ever put on a St. John’s jersey. He scored over 2,000 points in his career at St. John’s which places him third all time behind Malik Sealy and Chris Mullin. Harrison has the school record for three pointers made.  Harrison stuck around at St. John’s when times got tough for him personally and he was suspended from the team, but he came back a better person and player. For that St. John’s fans are grateful because he gave everything to the program. I look forward to when his number is retired and hung in the rafters at Carnesecca Arena.

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(Photo does not belong to me. Taken from D’Angelo Harrison’s Twitter Page)

Describe your time at St. John’s and playing for Coach Lavin.

DH: Some of the best times of my life so far. Lav has been so influential to my life. I did not always understand it at first, but over time he taught me to see the big picture. He changed my life and I love him and communicate with him still to this day. Playing wise I loved it, I like to say I’m a New Yorker now.

Four years in the making, but your senior year you guys made the NCAA tournament. What was that like and how important do you think that was for the program?

DH: Making the NCAA tourney was dream come true. It didn’t go how I wanted it to go, but senior year was a season to never forget. Lav should have stayed. I still don’t understand to this day why after that season they parted ways. Just being part of something bigger and having the city behind us for that run was awesome, something I truly never will forget. It impacted the school for years to come same way the 2011 team did it for us.

Do you still keep in touch with Sir’Dom Pointer, Phil Greene, and Jamal Branch? Thoughts on getting back together for a St. John’s TBT team in the near future?

DH: Yes, we are all still in contact and brothers to this day. Maybe we got to get Lav to coach in it.

Your post collegiate career has taken you to Turkey, Israel, and now Russia. What is playing overseas like and what can we expect from you this year in Russia?

DH: Russian VTB league is one of the best leagues in Europe, so I always take what coach Tony Childs told me to go on multiple 1 game winning streaks, but the goal is always to make the playoffs. My game has changed since college and I’ve learned a lot about different cultures.

When your playing career is over, do you see yourself coaching or possibly returning to St. John’s in some role?

DH: I want to be the head assistant at St.Johns when it’s all said and done.

Written by Tom Ballato. Follow me on Twitter @tdotballato