Former Michigan State Basketball Player Anthony Ianni Wants New Book To Motivate And Educate


Anthony Ianni’s first grade class had a good week. His teacher was so proud of the work the students completed and of how well they behaved that she exclaimed she was “living on cloud nine.”

If that is where Ianni’s teacher was living, well, there certainly had to be such a thing. So Ianni wandered over to a window and looked skyward in search of where his teacher lived.

Which cloud was it? How does she get up there? Is there a large stairway leading to it? Why are other kids laughing at me?

In his book, Centered, due to be released in early September, Ianni provides many such examples of his struggles as a child on the autism spectrum. Through it all, though, he had dreams that he was determined to turn into reality.

And he did.

The former Michigan State basketball player, MSU graduate, husband, father of two young boys and motivational speaker triumphed over many obstacles to fulfill his dreams when virtually every medical professional gave a young Ianni nary a chance of even attending college. 

“I want to give people the hope and inspiration that they are looking for,” said Ianni of his book, co-written with Rob Keast. “I want my story to be the underdog story that today’s generation can read and look up to.”

Ianni’s mother, Jamie, still has piles of paperwork from his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or behavior evaluation reports submitted by specialists. Excerpts from these reports are sprinkled throughout the book and a couple of them get into a level of detail that might cause Ianni some discomfort even today. However, such details need to be revealed in order to potentially help parents going through a situation similar to what his parents went through. 

“There were some things I did as a kid that I am not very proud of,” he said. “Sometimes I get embarrassed whenever my mother brings them up because they were not my favorite memories as a youth. However, parents who read the evaluations could find them very impactful. The same for educators as well. With my IEPs, they will see where I was at five, six or seven years old and the process of getting to where I am now. That can give them hope for their son, daughter or student.”

To that extent, it was not just about how Ianni’s parents coped, but teachers and athletic coaches as well. Through his experiences Ianni knows what can work and what might not work when it comes to receiving instruction in a given setting. In his case, the basketball court was a safe haven and a place where he wanted to realize many of his dreams. He also had to have people believe in him.

“My book may not only be an inspirational tool for a lot of people, but it can also be an educational thing for coaches, teachers and administrators,” said the 32-year-old Ianni, who walked on and was a center for the Spartans after playing two seasons at Grand Valley State. “In whatever sport it might be, coaches may have a young man or a young woman on their team and they are trying to find ways to help them. They can read what (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo did for me, what my (Okemos, Mich.) high school coach, Dan Stolz, did for me and what my AAU coach, Anthony Stuckey, did for me. They can learn from this and apply it (within their coaching structure).”

Ianni, who was first Division I basketball player known to be on the spectrum, does not want the book to be solely about autism. Sure, being on the spectrum is at the core of who he is. But so are the many things Ianni has accomplished. Hence, the book was written with several other qualities in mind.

“The one thing I loved about doing this book is that it was not just written for a particular audience,” he said. “Rather, it is a book for many audiences and that is what excites me. It is not just a book about autism. It is a sports book, a motivational book, an inspirational story and an underdog story.”

The underdog was a champ on May 5, 2012. That was the day Ianni graduated from Michigan State with a degree in sociology. Each anniversary of that date he posts a graduation photo on his Twitter account.

“In my mind, it was a historical moment,” he said. “It is something that people told my family would never happen, would never be done. After all the things that were said about me during my youth, I received a degree from one of the nation’s top universities.”

Alas, that was only the beginning. Since talking to forbes.com a little more than two years ago about overcoming the many obstacles he faced since he was a toddler, Ianni has continued tirelessly in his effort to spread awareness and education in the hope of ramping up acceptance for those on the spectrum.

Prior to the pandemic-related shutdown, Ianni’s calendar was full of speaking engagements, whether it was students, non-profits or autism-related conferences and summits.

The pandemic put a temporary halt to the physical travel, but not his message. Like many others, Ianni turned to Zoom and connected with various groups two to three times per month. He plans to resume traveling in mid-to-late August.

“I am fired up about it,” he said of resuming in-person engagements. “I am itching to get back out there to do my presentations. The one thing I have always gotten out of doing in-person presentations is the interactions with students, educators and administrators. I feed off that live energy.”

There are many more things Ianni desires to accomplish as a speaker and author. As such, the book may prove to be the tip of the iceberg.

Centered is just the start,” he said. “I am really excited to see what else is in store.”

As for progress that is being made on the autism awareness front, Ianni is pleased with much of what he has seen, though plenty more needs to be done.

“We are getting there,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done and in the end I hope to be part of that process in any way possible.”

He already has.



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