BEAVERTON, Ore. – Anthony Ianni was six feet tall and wore a size 12 shoe when he was in sixth grade.
It may be hard to imagine anyone bullying him in school. But they did.
“I actually knew a kid who called me the jolly green giant from day one until before Christmas break,” he said.
The now 24-year-old was also diagnosed with autism at a young age. He said the bullying at his Michigan schools went on for years.
“A lot of people said ‘you’re crazy, you’re not gonna end up playing at Michigan State. You have no chance.’ Let alone having people tell me I wouldn’t graduate from college.”
Ianni did play basketball for Michigan State, where he recently graduated. His team won two Big Ten conference championships.
Now he’s back on the court for a very different reason. He’s a motivational speaker who talks to gyms full of kids about bullying.
He arrived at Mountain View Middle School in Beaverton on Tuesday for a mother he’d never met. Laurie Ranslam has an autistic son who attends that school.
“About two weeks ago he was pushed down on the playground and hit,” Ranslam said. “This happens.”
She put her hope in the six-foot-nine Ianni, who’s made a career telling kids to stand up to bullying. He spoke to students at two other schools and Lewis and Clark College on Tuesday.
“I was told the stories, 'you never will, you can’t, you won’t,'” he told the packed school gym. “Every time people doubted me, I played the role of the underdog.”