ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As much as fans are looking forward to laying their eyes on the 2014-15 version of the Michigan Wolverine basketball team, many inside Crisler Center and across the college basketball world should take a moment to peer even closer at freshman Austin Hatch.
A survivor of two plane crashes, Hatch’s journey has been anything but easy on and off the floor.
Working to relearn many skills most take for granted, Hatch has gone from a coma to college and at a place he’s dreamt about attending even prior to committing to Michigan back in June of 2011.
“Since before I can remember, if that gives you an idea,” Hatch said at Michigan’s media day recently. “It’s been a while.
“My road, had a little bump in the road a few years back as I’m sure you’re aware, but that’s all it was, a bump in the road, not a dead end by any stretch as evidenced by the fact that I made it here and I’m a part of this team now. It’s just about working hard and getting better and we’ll see where things go.”
Where exactly Hatch’s road will lead remains to be seen, but it’s clear the Indiana native is headed some place special.
Still of course in the process of getting back up to speed physically, Hatch’s impact on Michigan’s program has been immediate in the locker room.
“He has really done a great job of embracing the team and being a part of the team and giving us everything he can give us every practice,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
“He’s limited in practice right now just as he continues to improve his skill level but at the same time the kids love him and you’ll watch him practice today, he’ll be in some of the early exercises and he won’t be in some of the more competitive ones.
“But he’s brought a lot to this team.”
As far as what exactly Hatch can bring to Michigan’s team this season, and in what role, Beilein focused instead on the inspiration the freshman can be, first and foremost.
“I think it’ll be one as a student of the game, that will try to give us everything that he can in practice, help in any way that he can on and off the floor,” Beilein said. “Where so many people put this as such a great thing to have him on this basketball team, no, the gift is from Austin Hatch to every one of us.
“When you watch him go through our drills and our kids are encouraging him, that’s a tremendous blessing to the team to see what a young man can do.”
At this point it might be difficult to remember back to 2010 when Michigan first began targeting Hatch as a potential recruit for the basketball program.
A three-point specialist and willing defender prior to his injury, Hatch would earn a scholarship offer from the Wolverines a year later, immediately offering his verbal commitment.
Recently tracking down a highlight tape of Hatch from his time at Canterbury (Ind.) high school, Beilein plans to show the team what he called “a great video,” with everyone hoping Hatch will have the opportunity to do what appeared to be snatched away from him for a short period of time.
Although, ask Hatch himself what it’ll mean to step on the floor at Crisler Center in a Michigan jersey for the first time, being the consummate teammate and unselfish person he is, he says don’t make this story all about him.
“It is surreal but you know what I’m just about taking every day as it comes,” Hatch said. “We still have a lot of work to do to get better before then.
“We’re still working hard, we’ll be a better team by that time then we are now. It’s just about taking it one day at a time.”
Hatch’s appreciation for life and opportunity can serve as a constant reminder of the adversity others endure, and to simply take nothing for granted.
“Every now and then (I’ll) just take a moment to take a step back and just really take a moment to appreciate everything I’ve been given here or everything that I’m exposed to here rather,” Hatch said.
“Just being a part of a team like Michigan, being a part of a program like Michigan, it’s unbelievable for me but it’s all about my team.”
Michigan opens up their exhibition season at home against Wayne State on Nov. 10.