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FAU hires Isaiah Austin, whose NBA playing plans were derailed, as an assistant coach

Portland Trail Blazers v Dallas Mavericks

DALLAS, TEXAS - JANUARY 03: Former NBA player Isaiah Austin walks on the court before the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers at American Airlines Center on January 03, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

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BOCA RATON, Fla. — Isaiah Austin never wanted to become a coach. And now, he sees it as his calling.

The former Baylor center — whose plans to play in the NBA were thwarted when he was diagnosed in 2014 with Marfan syndrome — was introduced Friday as an assistant coach on new coach John Jakus’ staff at Florida Atlantic.

It’s the first real coaching opportunity for the 7-foot-1 Austin, who spent the last few years working for the NBA, not playing in the league. He has a long relationship with Jakus from his Baylor days and couldn’t say no when he was invited to join this staff.

“I have a passion for giving and not receiving,” Austin said. “And this will give me an opportunity to give back to the game what it’s given to me. It’s kind of like a silver lining for my life right now.”

Austin is the third assistant to be hired by FAU to work with Jakus, who was hired last month to replace Dusty May — who left the Owls after six years for Michigan. Todd Abernethy was retained and is back for a sixth season, and Jordan Fee was hired earlier this week. Fee went 32-3 this season at Gannon and returns to South Florida after a seven-season run at Division II power Nova Southeastern, located a few miles south of FAU.

Like Austin, Fee said Jakus made the offer impossible to decline.

“Coach Jakus is one of the best human beings I know, in addition to being a phenomenal basketball coach,” Fee said.

And in turn, Jakus feels the same way about Austin, who has a history of overcoming challenges. He played college ball despite being blind in his right eye — a dunk as a middle schooler injured that eye, and multiple operations couldn’t fix the detached retina and save his vision. He eventually returned to the court after the Marfan diagnosis kept him from being drafted by an NBA team.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver drafted Austin himself to work for the league. Austin — who was cleared to play again in 2016 — actually took him up on that after he retired from playing internationally. He still does play in Ice Cube’s BIG3 league and plans to continue this year.

“It was an honor for me to be with him as a player when I was on staff at Baylor,” Jakus said. “He was every bit a lottery pick, but for health reasons, it didn’t work out. Through that process, he became more than a player for me. One of the most important people in my career. He spent the last few years working with Adam Silver and the NBA. It is a complete honor for him to join our staff.”

Austin is still in playing shape, which might come in handy if any Owls want to try their skills against a guy who should have been in the NBA making millions. He’s not bitter about how things turned out, saying he’s relied on his faith and his wife and family to get through rough times.

Jakus played a huge role in that as well, Austin said.

“He’s just been a man who’s constantly been there for me,” Austin said. “Highs and lows. It doesn’t matter. It’s not basketball. He cares about me as a human and as a man. He always encourages me to be a great husband, to be a great father, be a great friend, a great son. So, it was an emotional day when he called me to ask me to come join him out here.”