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May 24, 2014
Memorial Day weekend: Remembering Stephen Hatch
Austin Hatch won't get the college send-off many kids his age receive when he arrives in Ann Arbor this June - the ones that include kisses and hugs good-bye, well wishes and care packages from his parents. Two different plane crashes that claimed the lives of his mother (2003) and father (June 2011), the second of which left him with severe brain trauma, robbed Hatch of what many take for granted but would now be his sweetest luxury.
When the Pasadena, Calif., Loyola senior finally met the media for the first time since the 2011 crash that left him with a broken collarbone and punctured lung, though, there was no bitterness. Instead there was a sense of calm and warmth, he said last November.
"I feel like God has his hand on me," Hatch told a gathering of news media in what USA TODAY called a "surreal and uplifting" press conference. "I feel like there's a plan for my life."
Part of it is carrying on the legacy of his father, Dr. Stephen Hatch. There was no bigger fan on the court or off, and the two shared a bond stronger than most given the tragedy they'd endured together.
It took the younger Hatch some time to process his loss after he awoke from his weeks-long coma. He also lost his stepmother in the second crash.
"I was dealing with the loss of my best friend, my coach, my teacher, my mentor and my No. 1 fan - that same man was also my father, Dr. Stephen Hatch," he said. "He taught me everything - the work necessary to succeed, faith, determination and courage in the midst of hardship. Those traits I acquired from him are what saved my life."
They're also what many who interacted with him cling to in remembering him. He was popular in the Fort Wayne community not just because of his success, but also for his giving soul.
He did the little things that meant a lot, Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander said.
"When they came up for the visit, we all spent on campus at Amir's Deli," Alexander recalled. "We got done enjoying some sandwiches and we said, 'it's a nice day -- let's grab a dessert.' He said, 'you guys brought all these kids in and did all this - I'm buying the ice cream today.'"
He ordered Alexander a double scoop.
"That's the type of giving sprit Dr. Hatch had in his profession, too," Alexander said. "He touched many lives of people in northwest Indiana."
On another trip for a football game weekend, assistant LaVall Jordan recalled, Dr. Hatch left the seats just before halftime and returned with arms full.
"I think it was the opening game, so there were festivities around the day and a number of kids and their families there, but he bought pizza, drinks, nachos and everything back for everybody," he recalled. "That was the man's heart and generosity. He was a special guy."
A man who wanted his son at Michigan, Fort Wayne, Ind., Canterbury head coach Dan Kline said shortly after Hatch pledged in June 2011. Kline coached Hatch for three years, including a junior season in which Hatch averaged 24 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game in leading Canterbury to its best season in school history. They escaped the sectionals and made the regionals for the first time and posted big upsets along the way behind Hatch's outstanding play.
One of the biggest came in a win over Fort Wayne, Ind., Bishop Luers, a program boasting three Division I basketball talents and five D-I football players. Hatch put up 30 points and 18 rebounds in front of Michigan head coach John Beilein, saving his best for the big stage.
The days of big scoring numbers might be gone - Hatch played very limited minutes for Loyola this year, though he did hit a triple at the end of one game that brought the house down - but nobody's willing to write him off. He'll contribute to the program in some way, and he enters on full athletic scholarship.
"A lot of people have said my recovery is kind of a miracle," he said. "But you have to remember the significance of what I've been through. I had a traumatic brain injury."
Basketball was the last thing on the 6-6, Rivals.com three-star prospect's mind when he was going through his recovery period, but he's spent plenty of time on the court since trying to regain the skills that were once basic. First he had to relearn how to walk and talk and everything else, he recalled, like he was "born again."
The basketball skills remain a work in progress.
"I still need to work on my fundamentals," he said. "What was once second nature, as a result of the brain injury, I have to think about stuff on the court that I really shouldn't have to think about. That's just going to take time."
The Michigan coaches will have plenty of patience. Whether he gets all of his talent back or not, though, there will be a place for him on the team, head coach John Beilein reiterated this spring. And should he ever step foot on the court, the reaction might be similar to when he hit his first triple as part of the Loyola team earlier this year. His teammates flooded the court and received a well worth it technical foul.
"During his time of tragedy, we've all had different moments where we have been approached on the circuit by random folk who either knew the family or embraced them as Hoosiers in that state who would come up to you and share a story," Alexander said. "A woman told me once while I was recruiting at an event in Indianapolis, 'if that Hatch kid ever comes out of this, steps on the floor, you won't have enough seats on that floor to keep us Hoosiers out.'"
They'll have to battle for space with Wolverines fans that will embrace him as family, including a number who already have.