In the end, the game didn’t even count. The score didn’t even matter.
Instead, for anyone who has ever heard of Austin Hatch’s story, a singular moment meant everything.
Years after surviving two plane crashes, one at the age of eight, the other at 16, and losing his mother, two siblings, his stepmother and father, Hatch entered the Michigan men’s basketball team’s exhibition game against Wayne State with 1:40 remaining to a standing ovation.
Michigan coach John Beilein alerted the freshman with about five minutes left in the 86-43 victory to stay loose. He was going to get Hatch in the game.
The crowd, the Michigan bench and the Wolverines on the court all urged the freshman to shoot. But Hatch wasn’t going to force anything. No matter the situation he’s been placed in, he wasn’t going to take a shot just because he was on the court.
“For a long time, before I got into a high school game, guys are saying, ‘Oh, if you get in there, you’ve got to shoot it right away,’ ” he said. “(But) I wait until it’s the right time in the offense. If it’s not the right point, I’m not going to shoot it just because, ‘Oh, it’s Austin Hatch. He’s been through a tragedy. It’ll be cool if he makes it.’ I’m about winning the game. I’m about my team. It’s a we, us, our.”
So even when Hatch got the ball in front of Michigan’s bench on his first possession of the game, he scanned the court, passing up a contested 3-pointer. Instead he dished the ball to a teammate, allowing for a better scoring opportunity.
With the game getting closer and closer to its endpoint, it started to become unclear if Hatch would get a shot off. But with 12 seconds left, Hatch stood at the top of the arc with the ball in his hand once again. Seemingly trapped, Hatch debated whether to shoot or pass, but before he could make a decision Wayne State’s Daniel Ball fouled him. With the Warriors over the limit, Hatch strode to the free-throw line. He would shoot two.
Hatch had thought about this moment since his childhood. It may not have been the exact situation he imagined, but it was special nonetheless.
“I’m envisioning myself counting down the top of the clock with five seconds to go in the game,” he said. “Three. Two. One. And I shoot it and win the game. Obviously it didn’t win the game tonight but I think after all that I’ve been through, it’s a pretty special moment for a lot of people.”
With the entire crowd on its feet, Hatch missed his first attempt. But after taking a step off the line and taking a deep breath, Hatch sank the second. Ready to run back on defense, Hatch was mobbed by his teammates at midcourt before Beilein subbed him out to yet another standing ovation.
As his teammates stood, applauding his performance, Beilein hugged him. It may be the only time Hatch gets his chance this season.
“We don’t know if this is going to happen again,” he said. “We don’t know if we’ll be ahead of the game by that much that we’ll put him in later on in the year. We don’t know if he’s going to get fouled.”
As special as what Hatch did Monday night, he doesn’t want Beilein and others to remember this one singular moment. He still has four years left at Michigan. He still has work to do.
“I don’t want to be known by the time my career comes to an end here,” Hatch said. “I don’t want to be known as a cool story. Obviously what happened to me is unique, but that’s what happened. It’s not who I am. Obviously it’s a big part of my life, but I’m about moving forward and making the most of it.”