For Austin Hatch, remarkable journey continues in different role

Alejandro Zúñiga

To John Beilein, Austin Hatch is family. Not just part of the Michigan basketball community, mind you, but a member of the coach’s personal family, alongside his three biological sons.

That relationship blossomed over the last year, as Hatch — a two-time plane crash survivor — came to Ann Arbor on an athletic scholarship and became a valued member of the Wolverines. The freshman guard appeared in five games, scoring his first official point on a free throw against Coppin State in December.

“Coach Beilein and I have become very close,” Hatch said Monday afternoon. “(He’s) just a great man, such a great man to have in my life, especially after all I’ve lost and been through.

“He’s sort of like a father figure to me, and some of my teammates as well. … By no means is he filling in in the place of my father, and by no means is he — nor anyone else — trying to fill the void of me losing my father. He’s just a great man to have in my life. He’s obviously a great coach, and, as I’ve said before, he’s 10 times the man that he is a coach.

“… I know for a fact that there’s nowhere on earth that my father would rather me be than the University of Michigan playing for a coach like Coach Beilein.”

The dynamic will change somewhat for the remainder of his college career, as the Big Ten approved a waiver for Hatch that places him on a medical scholarship. The guard will serve the next three years practicing and lifting with the team, and will receive all the benefits he did this season — including access to academic tutors — but cannot dress or compete in official games.

The reclassification will allow Hatch to focus on improving his academic performance. According to Beilein, it became difficult to rationalize the freshman’s inability to participate entirely during practices when it meant he was struggling in the classroom.

“While he did make progress from where he was, once we got to that point where we were getting academic reports and I was seeing him every day, I said, something’s got to give here,” Beilein explained. “Because he was standing around most of every practice, watching film sessions for 45 minutes. It began to dawn (on me) maybe in January, February that we really had to look at this.

“I think it was really important for him to get to his goal to get back on the floor again and be in a Michigan uniform. That got him to this point. Now I think we have to be realistic of what gets him to the next point of being a doctor or being a lawyer and having a successful education.”

I’m not going to be a pro basketball player, obviously. I’m going to have to learn and become a pro in something in life.

Next year, Hatch hopes to practice about 10 hours per week, half of the NCAA allowances, while working toward a career in business.

“My academics are the priority for me,” he said. “I’m not going to be a pro basketball player, obviously. I’m going to have to learn and become a pro in something in life. I’m excited for the opportunity to focus on my studies.”

Hatch said earning playing time and scoring are “memories I’ll have for the rest of my life,” but he also noted the respect and patience with which teammates treated him all season.

“I’ll be real brief with you: To be completely honest, I didn’t know how it was going to be coming here,” Hatch said. “My role on the court is limited. All my teammates have really embraced me. They appreciate all that I can contribute to the team in whatever capacity that it is: on the floor, in the locker room, in the classroom. They’re all a great group of guys.”

While Hatch’s new role means a step away from the national spotlight, there’s no question his story remains, in Beilein’s words, one of “grit and confidence and hard work that will continue in the right way.”

“My goal is not to be normal,” Hatch said. “I don’t want to be average. If you set the goal of being average, more than likely, you’re going to end up being average. I don’t want to be average the rest of my life.”

Not to worry: Hatch — and his relationship with Beilein — has been nothing short of extraordinary.

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