Freshman wing Austin Hatch isn't the same player he was when Michigan recruited him out of Fort Wayne, Ind., Canterbury in the 2013 class, but he's never been more respected by his teammates. Those in attendance said Hatch stole the show in a 99-61 win over the Perugia All-Stars on the first leg of the Wolverines' Italian tour.
Hatch is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a plane crash two years ago that claimed the lives of his father and stepmother. He didn't score in his three minutes, but it didn't matter. He led 'The Victors' in the postgame locker room and called the experience 'unreal.'
"I am not going to take a shot if it is not the right point in the game," he said. "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 and my teammates."
And they're all about him. Freshman big man Ricky Doyle called Hatch a "brother," echoing the sentiments of everyone on the team. Head coach John Beilein, who has a tight bond with his player, called the game a "special moment."
"It's something he has worked very hard for," Beilein said. "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."
Special, too, for sophomore Zak Irvin, who knew Hatch back in the Indiana AAU days.
"It was great to see that, especially after everything that Austin has been through," Irvin said. "To see him step out onto that floor just meant so much. I have known Austin since the eighth grade, so to see him out there playing was just incredible. I hope he is able to do that a lot more during this trip and beyond."
Hatch might never be the player he once was, but it's already a miracle how far he's come. Nobody on the Michigan team would be stunned if he continued to improve dramatically.
"As you can imagine, it has been a heck of a journey to get here," Hatch said. "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."
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