Before he regained the strength to move around without a wheelchair or to speak in more than a whisper, Austin Hatch vowed to friends and family that he'd someday fulfill his commitment play basketball for the University of Michigan.
Against all odds, he has delivered on that promise.
Sorry, it's getting a little dusty in here.— Michigan Basketball (@umichbball) August 17, 2014
More than three years after the second deadly plane crash of his life splintered his family and left him in a coma, Hatch made his Michigan debut Sunday night during the Wolverines' first exhibition game on their preseason tour of Italy. Hatch went scoreless in three minutes, but that hardly detracted from the joy he experienced achieving what doctors said he couldn't.
"As you can imagine it has been a heck of a journey to get here," Hatch told Michigan Athletics after the game. "Playing basketball at the University of Michigan has been my goal since I was a little kid. It was unreal to be here and to have actually played a game. I really feel like I have that game under my belt now and I really feel like a Michigan basketball player."
To fully appreciate why a cameo appearance in an otherwise forgettable exhibition victory brought Hatch so much excitement, consider what it took for the 6-foot-6 freshman to get to this point.
Eight years after he and his dad walked away from a 2003 crash that killed his mother, 11-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother, Hatch experienced a sickening case of déjà vu. His dad was flying the family between its Indiana home and a Michigan summer house in June 2011 when the small, single-engine plane plummeted nose-first into a garage along a residential street north of Charlevoix Municipal Airport, killing Hatch's father and stepmother and critically injuring him.
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.
Hatch may never fully regain the coordination and athleticism that earned him scholarship offers from many of the Midwest's top basketball programs, but how far he has come is remarkable anyway.
In Nov. 2011, Hatch still lacked the motor skills to either catch a ball thrown to him or balance on one foot. Barely a year later, he recovered enough to rejoin his high school team in a limited capacity. Barely two years later, he had been cleared to practice full speed and was preparing for a return to game action. And now, less than three years later, he has fulfilled his dream of playing for Michigan.
"It was a special moment," Michigan coach John Beilein told the school's athletics site. "Austin even led us in the fight song after the game was over. It's something he has worked very hard for. It was a great moment for our team; however, it was truly special for Austin and his grandfather, Jim, who was here in the stands."
Hatch could have easily hoisted a shot in his three minutes on the floor, but that's not his style. This is a kid who turned down the chance to play for his high school midway through his recovery because he didn't think it was fair to take minutes away from teammates who were better than he was at that point.
"I am not going to take a shot if it is not the right point in the game," Hatch said Sunday night. "For example if I have an open three and I have a teammate who is open under the basket, you better believe I am going to be passing it to him. Yeah, it would be cool if I made a three. It would be a good story, but I am about my team."
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