Michigan Freshman Basketball Player Is A True Survivor
It was a free throw. One point. In the scheme of things it was meaningless. It meant nothing in the overall picture of the 2014-15 NCAA basketball season. It was one point in a 43-point blow out victory for the Michigan Wolverines. But to Austin Hatch, it was the symbol of survival. It was the completion of an impossible dream. A dream that came out of not one, but two nightmares. To the 6-foot, 6-inch freshman, it was everything.
After sinking the second of two free-throws with twelve seconds remaining in a 86-43 romp over Wayne State, the crowd at Crisler Arena gave Hatch a standing ovation as the freshman forward jogged to the bench, embraced coach John Beilein and hugged each of his teammates on the bench, a transcendent moment for a player who has endured years of sadness and hardship.
Hatch, 20, has survived two plane crashes. The first, in 2003, nine-year old Austin and his father walked away from a crash that killed his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. Eight years later, just days after verbally committing to play basketball at his father's alma mater, the University of Michigan, Hatch survived a second crash, this one killing his father and stepmother.
In addition to suffering severe head trauma, a punctured lung, fractured ribs and a broken collarbone, Hatch also had so much swelling in his brain that doctors had to put him in a medically induced coma. Even after he emerged from the coma eight weeks later, he required physical therapy to regain his walking ability and motor skills and word searches and crossword puzzles to regain his mental acuity.
In Nov. 2011, Hatch still lacked the motor skills to either catch a ball thrown to him or balance on one foot. A year later, he recovered enough to rejoin his high school team in a limited capacity. Two years later, he moved in with his Uncle in Los Angeles, began practicing with his new high school team in earnest and started preparation for a return to game action. And three years later, he made his Michigan debut during the team's overseas tour this summer and scored his first point as a Wolverine on Monday night.
The University of Michigan didn't have to honor Hatch's scholarship offer after the second plane crash, but the Wolverines coach chose to do so because it was the right thing to do. Head coach Beilein also showed tremendous thoughtfulness once again late in Monday night's game when he recognized it was a golden opportunity to get Hatch some playing time.
Beilein informed Hatch with about five minutes to go in Monday's game that he planned to put him in for the final minutes. Hatch entered with 1:41 to go, but he had no intention of hoisting up a shot the first time he touched the ball. The coach subbed Hatch out of the game after his free throw, allowing Hatch to soak in the moment. The freshman has dreamed about playing at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, wearing maize and blue, for a long, long time.
“Since my childhood days, you know, when I was just a little kid playing in the driveway, envisioning myself counting down the clock, 5 seconds left in the game … 3, 2, 1 … and I shoot it and win the game,” Hatch said after Monday’s game. “Obviously, it didn’t win the game tonight, but after all that I’ve been through, it was a pretty special moment for a lot of people.”
For none more special, than for a young man who has been to hell and back. Congratulations Austin Hatch.