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Michigan fans who stayed until the final minute of their team's exhibition rout of Wayne State University received a nice reward for not leaving early.
They witnessed one of the most heartwarming moments of the college basketball season.
More than three years after the second deadly plane crash of his life splintered his family and left him in a coma, Austin Hatch scored the first point of his college career, sinking a free throw with 12 seconds left in the Wolverines' 86-43 romp. The crowd at Crisler Arena gave Hatch a standing ovation as the freshman wing jogged to the bench, embraced coach John Beilein and hugged each of his teammates on the bench.
"[I've thought about that moment] since my childhood days when I was a little kid playing in my driveway," Hatch told reporters in Ann Arbor after the game. "I'd envision myself counting down the clock five seconds to go in the game, 3-2-1, and I'd shoot it and win the game. Obviously I didn't win the game tonight, but with everything I've been through, it was a pretty special moment."
The free throw indeed was emotional for Hatch and the Wolverines because of what it took for the 6-foot-6 Indiana native to still be playing basketball these days.
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 to its 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.
"Almost as soon as I woke up from the coma, I told people I was going to play basketball again," Hatch said last year. "There were people who doubted me, but I used that as motivation. I basically just said, 'Thank you for your opinion, but I'm going to prove you wrong.' "
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. 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.
"Simply in awe of my boy!" tweeted Jamal Adams, Hatch's former coach at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. "If you don't believe you can accomplish anything then read the story of Austin Hatch! Blessed to have him been one of my guys!"
Michigan's John Beilein 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. 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.
"Before I got into a high school game, guys were saying if you get in you've got to shoot it right away, but I wait until it's the right time in the offense," Hatch told reporters after the game. "If it's not the right point in the game, I'm not going to shoot it because, 'Oh, it's Austin Hatch. He has been through a tragedy. It would be cool if he makes it.' I'm about winning the game and I'm about my team."
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