Austin Hatch receives touching ‘Senior Day’ send-off
Ann Arbor — Michigan capped off its home schedule and another era in memorable fashion.
Following Sunday’s 74-62 win over rival Ohio State, Michigan coach John Beilein ran over to take a picture with the “Bee-Line” and the players jumped into the crowd to sing the fight song with the Maize Rage, the team’s student cheering section.
But no moment at Crisler Center topped the pregame “Senior Day” ceremony when Austin Hatch, who survived two deadly plane crashes that killed several of his family members in 2003 and 2011, was honored at center court.
Hatch, whose tragic yet remarkable story has been chronicled in national publications across the country, was the second senior to be announced following Jaaron Simmons.
After a short video montage was played with remarks from his teammates, Hatch shown on the video board with tears welling up in his eyes. He received a roaring applause from the sellout crowd as he was escorted onto the court by his fiancée, former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole, and grandparents.
Hatch and Beilein shared a short embrace before his teammates rushed over and began mobbing him with hugs.
“I was ready to cry,” Beilein said. “Somehow, I choked it off but I was ready to cry.”
Hatch, then a 16-year-old forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., committed to Michigan on June 15, 2011, after he received a scholarship offer from Beilein. But nine days later, he was clinging to life after a plane crash in Charlevoix killed his father and stepmother and left him in a coma for eight weeks.
It led to a long road of recovery — he had to relearn how to walk and talk after suffering a severe brain injury in the crash — but it didn’t stop Beilein from keeping his offer or Hatch from appearing in five games his freshman year during the 2014-15 season.
“When the NCAA allowed me to go see him when he was finally out of the coma — the last time I saw him he was one of the best sophomores in the country, without question,” Beilein said. “He reminded me of a young Wally Szczerbiak. He was tremendous. He played a great team and dominated them. And now I see him and he doesn’t weigh 210, he weighs like 140 now. He can’t eat a sandwich and can hardly walk. He can move like six inches at a time when he walks.
“When you see that and then you see this (today) — his family and his fiancée, Abby, it makes your heart warm. If we’ve been a small part of his life, it’s tremendous. He’s been a huge part of my life and this team’s life.”
Hatch was one of Michigan’s four departing players to be honored, alongside Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Simmons.
Hatch also dressed for the game, participated in warmups and was introduced as an honorary captain when the starting lineup was announced. But due to NCAA rules, he wasn’t able to play since he’s still on a medical scholarship.
Following the game, each of the four seniors got to give a brief speech to the crowd and Hatch took the time to express his gratitude to Michigan as well as his family and friends for the support over the past four years.
“They always say the measure of a man is how he treats someone he can’t repay,” he said. “I’ll never be able to repay Coach Beilein and his staff, but I’m extremely grateful and I’ve done very best to show my appreciation by how I approach everyone here.”
Beilein said he retold Hatch’s story to his team one more time on Saturday night to provide “incredible perspective.” He challenged the players to put themselves in Hatch’s shoes — going from one of the best 16-year-olds in the country to someone fighting for his life after such a heartbreaking tragedy.
“I try not to think about it too much because it’s sad and everything he’s been through,” Abdur-Rahkman said, “but how resilient and how positive he is is truly inspiring.”
Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson switched up his free-throw routine, dribbling the ball off to his right — ala former Detroit Piston Rip Hamilton — and slightly altering his motion.
Simpson said the change was something he had been working on with Beilein the past few days in practice and will continue to work on.
Regardless, the different approach seemed to pay dividends as Simpson finished 4-for-6 from the line to raise his season average to 49.1 percent. He was just 5-for-14 on free throws over the previous six games.
“I guess it’s working,” Simpson said. “It's all mental."
Beilein said the change was his idea — only after he received a call from his son, Patrick.
“It’s probably a violation. We had an extra coach,” Beilein joked. “He called and said, ‘Put it more off his shoulder. He needs to go more off his shoulder. Do it like you did to Scott Ungerer at Richmond.’
“So, we did it…I’m not taking the credit. He practiced it like crazy the last couple days. I don’t think the NCAA will take that win away from us.”
Ohio State grad transfer Andrew Dakich didn’t receive a warm welcome and was showered with boos every time he touched the ball in his Crisler Center return.
Dakich, a former walk-on guard who spent the past four seasons at Michigan, was held scoreless (0-for-3 shooting) and finished with a turnover and one steal in 22 minutes.
… Former Wolverines Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. sat courtside and were on hand for the game.
… With Sunday’s win, Michigan and Ohio State have split their 14 all-time ranked matchups. Since 2012, Michigan holds a 5-3 edge and has won the last four ranked meetings.