“LYD - Live your dreams,” he told students. “Live life to the fullest and never have regrets. Most of all, he said, respect others.”
Ianni told students he came to Thornapple Kellogg High School to deliver two messages: To inspire students to live their dreams, and to speak to students about bullying.
Ianni said he’s 6-feet 9-inches tall and wears a size 18 shoe, but has had to overcome even taller obstacles in his life.
He was the first player diagnosed with autism to play Division 1 basketball. And he's proud he never gave up on his dreams to someday play for Coach Tom Izzo.
He was diagnosed with a form of autism when he was a child and doctors warned his parents he would never go to college or be able to hold down a steady job. He would struggle through school and probably end up in some type of group home with others like him, the experts told his parents.
But Ianni said he was determined to succeed. “I had to work hard at everything. I had great teachers, just like you do, who helped me a lot,” he said.
After high school, he attended Grand Valley State University for two years, then transferred to Michigan State University and was a walk-on for the basketball team. By his senior year, he was offered a full-ride scholarship to play basketball.
Ianni said he believes there are three keys to success - motivation, hard work, and support. “My father taught me a quote, ‘The harder you work, the more you earn,’ and that quote has continued to help me,” Ianni said.
Because Ianni was different, not just in size and stature but also because of his autism, he said he was a target for bullying from the time he was in kindergarten until he was a freshman in high school.
But he warned students to be careful about being a bully or disrespecting anyone.
The person you bully or disrespect - that person could end up being your boss someday,” he said relating a story of being bullied in high school only to find years later those bullies now worked for a friend of his who was their boss.
He said people who bullied him in school, years later asked for his autograph and came to watch him play at MSU.
“Be careful what you do and say to others. Remember, what goes around comes around,” he said. “Respect. That’s what it’s all about.”