August 13, 2014 at 11:12 pm

Michigan freshman Austin Hatch, a plane-crash survivor, grateful John Beilein is man of his word

It’s been a long road for Austin Hatch just to get to practice with his teammates at the University of Michigan. But the freshman was there Wednesday morning — running, shooting, goofing around with his teammates — and he wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Hatch’s journey to Ann Arbor has been well documented. In June 2011, Hatch was severely injured and his father and stepmother were killed in a plane crash in Charlevoix.

Hatch, a 6-6 forward originally from Fort Wayne, Ind., was in a coma for eight weeks with a traumatic brain injury. He had to relearn how to talk and walk and, eventually, how to play basketball.

It was the second plane crash Hatch survived. In the first, in 2003, Hatch’s mother, sister and brother were killed. Hatch’s father was the pilot in both crashes.

Hatch committed to coach John Beilein and the Wolverines prior to the 2011 crash, and now he’s finally in Ann Arbor, a place he’s always wanted to call home, playing for a coach who never wavered on his word.

“My recruiting process began my freshman year of high school,” Hatch said. “Then things changed a little bit.

“Coach is a great man. He told me when I was in a wheelchair, ‘Austin, I can’t wait for you to come here and play for me. I’m going to be honored to have you as part of our program.’

“Just the fact that he let me come here to play for him says a lot about his loyalty and the kind of man he is.”

Hatch is participating in a limited fashion right now. He can’t go full speed, but just being in the facility, feeling the love from his teammates, is enough to put a smile on his face.

“(They embrace me) like a brother,” Hatch said. “They really treat me as part of their family. I’m honored to be here and have an opportunity to represent Michigan. It’s a dream come true.”

Beilein smiles but speaks slowly when he talks about Hatch, and the emotion is evident in the coach’s voice and manner.

“It’s been extremely rewarding watching him,” Beilein said. “He’s working his tail off to get his motor skills back up and do the things he used to do so easily. Being a part of this thing is just an incredible blessing to all of us.”

Teammates joke and shoot around with Hatch, confident one day they’ll share the floor with a guy who couldn’t even walk just three years ago.

“Everything that’s happened to him is so tragic,” Derrick Walton said. “We try to be the greatest big brothers we can to him. We always joke around, take him out and get something to eat. He’s a great kid so it’s always fun to be around him.”

Beilein wouldn’t make any guarantees, but he did say that Hatch will probably get some game action at some point this season.

And wouldn’t that be another impressive step in Austin Hatch’s long road back to basketball.

Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.

Austin Hatch passes to a teammate during Michigan's practice on Monday. / Detroit News / Clarence Tabb Jr.