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Two-time plane crash survivor working his way toward Michigan

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Austin Hatch, center, stands with his uncle, Michael (left), and coach Jamal Adams. (USATSI)
Austin Hatch, center, stands with his uncle, Michael (left), and coach Jamal Adams. (USATSI)

When you consider that Austin Hatch awoke from a coma in August of 2011, learning that he was now an orphan, that his father had died in the plane crash -- the second of Hatch's life -- that put him in the hospital for two months, it's really hard to move on from any detail outside of that horror. I can't imagine the scenario or empathize with that life. It's too scary.

"I woke up and I had no idea where I was," Hatch said Wednesday. "I had no idea what year it was or anything. It was almost like I was just born."

When you consider that, basketball seems beyond secondary.

But here we are, and Austin Hatch's recovery story has taken its next big step. Hatch is still on the mend in every way possible. Emotionally, he says improving. Physically, he's certainly gotten better. Mentally, it's still a challenge, unquestionably. Day by day, Hatch moves toward a stronger life. He still can't play competitive basketball anywhere near the level he did as late as the morning of June 24, 2011, before he boarded the single-engine aircraft that was piloted by his doomed father and stepmother.

It's unlikely Hatch will be ready or able to play at a high level a year from now, when he'll be enrolled at Michigan -- on scholarship. But more than two years after Hatch awoke from his coma, he's ready to speak about his journey to this point. Now a senior in high school, Hatch is on the precipice of the high school basketball season. At some point this year, he's expected to play again.

Hatch hosted a pool of reporters on Wednesday at his new high school, Loyola High School, in Los Angeles. He recalled awaking from that coma, going through physical therapy, the doctors telling him playing at a high level was probably not for his future.

"Thank you for your opinion," Hatch recalled saying to his physicians. "I'm going to prove you wrong."

He added, "I feel like God has his hand on me. I feel like there's a plan for my life."

Hatch's story is impossibly heartbreaking and remarkable because of the lottery-like nature of his bad luck to this point. He's survived two plane crashes, the first one at 8 years old, in 2003, when he lost his mother and two other siblings. They died never knowing Stephen Hatch, Austin's father, would share their fate eight years later.

"I was dealing with the loss of my best friend, my coach, my teacher, my mentor and my No. 1 fan -- that same man was also my father, Dr. Stephen Hatch," he said. "He taught me everything -- the work necessary to succeed, faith, determination and courage in the midst of hardship. Those traits I acquired from him are what saved my life."

And after that second crash, when Hatch broke his collarbone and punctured a lung and had brain swelling/injury -- he had to relearn everything from eating to talking, not to mention the obvious physical therapy needed to even walk again.

Over the summer Hatch opted to leave his home state of Indiana and move west. His uncle and brother to his late father, Michael, lives out there. So Hatch now lives with him. He's recovering and building a future with the closest family he has left.

This story still has a very long way to go. At least Austin Hatch is able, wanting and willing to help tell it now. Godspeed to him for that.

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