Former Fort Wayne basketball standout Austin Hatch is back on the court at his new high school in Los Angeles.
At 19 years old, Hatch has faced a mountain of adversity, that might have crushed others into giving up on their dreams. But, rather than surrender he’s pressing on, and says he feels blessed to be able to do so.
Hatch survived two plane crashes in the span of eight years. The first, when he was 8 years old, killed his mother, Julie; his 11-year-old sister, Lindsay; and 5-year-old brother, Ian.
The second crash came just days after the then 16-year old had verbally committed to play basketball for the University of Michigan. What was to be a celebratory trip to Michigan ended in tragedy as the plane, piloted by Hatch’s father, Stephen, crashed while trying to land in cloudy conditions. His father and stepmother, Kim, were killed.
Hatch suffered severe injuries in the crash, including a traumatic brain injury that prompted doctors to put him in a medically-induced coma. During his recovery, the 6-foot-6 Michigan recruit had to relearn how to do just about everything ‒ eat, walk, dress himself.
Hatch now lives in the Los Angeles area with his uncle’s family. His grandparents also live nearby.
During a press conference at Loyola High School on Wednesday, he talked publicly for the first time since the 2011 crash about the challenges he has faced in the wake of his unique and tragic experiences.
There is the tremendous emotional toll.
"I had to deal with the loss of my best friend, mentor, teacher, coach and fan ‒ the man that was also my father," he said. “Losing a father, that’s something that never goes away. The pain never goes away. That’s something that’s going to be with me the rest of my life, and I’m just going to have to deal with it.”
And there are the monumental physical and cognitive obstacles.
“There were times I couldn’t walk,” he said. “And from the time I was in a wheel chair I told people I was going to play basketball again.”
Hatch acknowledged that the possibility of him playing again might seem impossible to others, but he is determined to prove them wrong.
“I just said ‘I’m going to get there,’ and I tell you my time is getting close,” Hatch said.
Hatch is practicing with the team at Loyola, but there’s no time table for his official return. He said he’s not ready, yet. He still has to think about moves on the court that were “second nature” to him before his head injury. But, there have been glimpses of the player that caught the eye of Michigan coach John Beilein.
The Los Angeles Times relayed this story:
The other day, at Loyola basketball practice, Austin drove past two defenders, slipped beneath the team's 7-foot center and scored. His teammates went wild.
"The celebration caused us to miss five minutes of practice," Coach Jamal Adams says. "There was a dog pile."
No matter the extent of his recovery, Hatch will attend Michigan. He signed his national letter of intent last week.
Hatch said that even if his game does not return to the point where he can play Division I basketball, he will still be a member of the Michigan basketball family.
Beilein "told me that he wouldn't offer me a scholarship if he didn't think I had a role on the team that would help them win," he said. "He said, 'Austin, whatever you are able to do, whether it be a manager or a practice player or whatever, you're on scholarship no matter what."
Beilein and assistant coach Jeff Meyer stuck with Hatch throughout his recovery, speaking frequently and maintaining the Wolverines' commitment.
"It's exciting as can be that he's going to have this opportunity to play organized basketball again," Beilein said. "We just have to see how all this develops. ... He makes us appreciate what we have a whole lot more, because this young man is just terrific to talk to, to speak with ‒ to sort of put our lives in perspective sometimes."