The Wolverine

March 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2018 T he NCAA Tournament always represents a compelling, carpe diem, hang-on-for-dear-life three weeks. John Beilein's team stands ready, awash in reasons to seize each day. The Wolverines seized a spot in The Big Dance — if any doubt remained — via some sweet nut-cracking on Senior Day, Feb. 18 at Crisler Center. They smacked down Ohio State's No. 8 Buckeyes, declaring themselves once again a team that tourney foes shouldn't lightly regard. But this proved so much more than résumé building, confidence bolster- ing, Buckeye busting or even sending out seniors with a smile. After four decades of coaching, Beilein carries a perspective like few others. Last year's near tragedy on Michi- gan's initial flight to the Big Ten Tour- nament deepened his outlook. Beilein insisted it enhanced his appreciation for life and making the most of each day. So while the head coach locked in on besting the Buckeyes, he stressed the sense of his players not passing this way again. "It's always emotional," Beilein said. "Now that you've had 40-some Senior Nights, whether it was high school, junior college or all the levels of Division I, what's sad is, they think this goes on forever. Some of these se- niors, I've seen once since then. "That's it. The rest of their lives. The next 80 years of life, you might only see them one time. It's really impor- tant that we embrace the last opportu- nity to play a home game." Of course, this Senior Day carried with it more than the usual jolt of sen- timent. That's because Austin Hatch stood among the celebrated seniors. Hatch knows more than any of them about cherishing each day. At age 8, he survived a plane crash that took the life of his mother, brother and sister. Eight years later, he emerged from another crash that killed his father — the pilot in both incidents — and his stepmother. Hatch didn't emerge the same. Prior to the second horrific accident, he rocketed toward a Michigan career as one of the best high school basket- ball players in the nation. In a few life-altering moments, his challenges became walking and talk- ing again. A traumatic brain injury left him fighting for his life, rather than All-America honors. It's no surprise Beilein found him- self choking back tears on this Senior Day. He recalled scouting Hatch prior to the second crash. "The last time I saw him, he was one of the best sophomores in the country, without question," Beilein said. "He reminded me of a young Wally Szczerbiak. He was tremen- dous. He played a great team and dominated them. "The next time I see him, he doesn't weigh 210. He weighs about 140. He can't eat a sandwich, because he can't move his jaw. He can hardly walk. He can move six inches at a time when he walks." Hatch lost his family in two petri- fying plummets to earth. He lost his basketball career, although Beilein honored his scholarship offer. Hatch didn't lose everything, though. He didn't lose his will to live and thrive and keep fighting. He told the Crisler crowd, following the win over the Buckeyes, he could never repay Michigan for what it's done for him. Hatch has already done so, many times over, in Beilein's eyes. The head coach sees the recovered Hatch and his fiancé, former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole, and smiles while keeping the tears at bay. "It makes your heart warm," Beilein said. "If we've been a small part of his life, it's tremendous. He's been a huge part of my life, and this team's life." Beilein doesn't want those lessons lost on his crew. That's why he gath- ered them together the night before the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes to remind them of the Austin Hatch story. "I told them, I want you to put yourself as an 8-year-old," he said. "I want you to put yourself as one of the best 16-year-olds in the country, and you lose your stepmom and dad, after you've already lost your brother, your sister and your mom. "You've watched them die. I don't think our freshmen really understood it. You put yourself in that position." Beilein told them it could be any one of them, at any time. He re- minded them to cherish each other and each day. Plenty of survive-and-advance hys- teria will roil among college basket- ball fans in the coming weeks. They'll revel and recoil during the ride. Beilein and his Wolverines — espe- cially Hatch — embrace a far deeper meaning. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Wolverines Are Living In The Moment Since he took a medical hardship at the end of the 2015 season, Austin Hatch was not allowed to play in the game, but he dressed out and was honored on Senior Day Feb. 18. PHOTOS BY PER KJELDSEN

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