Rod Beard: UM's Hatch enjoys 'special' moment in rout
Ann Arbor — Late in the second half of Michigan's 86-43 win over Wayne State in Monday night's exhibition, many fans started to leave, figuring there wasn't much to stick around to see.
They missed what is sure to be one of the highlights of the Wolverines' season.
With 1:41 left, freshman Austin Hatch checked into the game, the first time he's played in a game at Crisler Center. Hatch, who survived two plane crashes that killed both of his parents, got a rousing ovation from those who stayed.
The Crisler crowd erupted soon after, when Hatch was fouled and sank his second free throw after missing the first. Coach John Beilein gave Hatch a hearty hug as the final seconds ticked off the clock. But for Beilein and the fans who remained, it was a moment frozen in time.
"Coach B told me with about five minutes left in the game: 'Austin, stay loose; we're going to get you in there,' " Hatch said. "I tried my best to stay loose and he called my number and I was ready to go. Fortunately, I went in there and had an opportunity to make a foul shot — it was pretty special."
It's been a moment three years in the making, as Hatch committed in June 2011 and his career was derailed by the plane accidents.
In 2011, Hatch was severely injured and his father and stepmother were killed in a plane crash in Charlevoix. Hatch 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 returned to the basketball court in high school after moving from Canterbury High in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to California, where he lived with family.
In his first high school game after his recovery, he made a 3-pointer on his first shot, celebrated in a widely circulated video on the web.
"(In high school) guys were saying if you get in there, you have to shoot it right away," Hatch said. "I wait until it's the right time in the offense and if it's not the right point in the game, I'm not going to shoot it because it's Austin Hatch and he's been through a tragedy and it would be cool if he makes it.
"I'm about winning the game and about my team. It's we, us and our."
For Hatch, it was something he's dreamed about for years — a dream not shattered by the obstacles he's faced during his tragedies or during his recovery.
"(I've dreamed of this) since probably my childhood days when I was a little kid playing in the driveway, envisioning myself, counting down the clock with five seconds left in the game — 3-2-1 and I shoot it and win the game," Hatch said. "Obviously, it didn't win the game tonight but I think after all I've been through, it was a pretty special moment for a lot of people."
Sophomore Zak Irvin, also from Indiana, said seeing Hatch make the free throw was a special moment.
"It was heartwarming experience, seeing that kid and how hard he's been working," said Irvin, who said he wanted Hatch to shoot the first chance he got. "Just to knock down that free throw, that was big time. To be honest with you, I did, but he was poised with the basketball and waiting for his moment."
While Beilein admits Hatch's moment was special, it's not a certainty that he'll have another opportunity to repeat it this season.
Hatch is near the bottom of the playing rotation and his game time might be limited to only lopsided games this season.
"We don't know if this is going to happen again," Beilein said. "We don't know if we'll be ahead in a game that much where we can put him in later on in the year and we don't know if he's going to get fouled. It's a tremendous thing and he's such a great kid."
For those who stayed to see the final minutes, they won't have to wait again, especially if Hatch has his way.
"I don't want to be known by the time my career comes to an end, as a cool story. Obviously what happened to me is kind of unique. That's what happened, it's not who I am," Hatch said. "It's a big part of my life, but I'm about moving forward and making the most of my experience here."