What's the saddest story you've ever read? Michigan recruit Austin Hatch could match it.
In 2003, Hatch survived a plane crash that killed his biological mother and two siblings. Late last June, Hatch survived another plane crash, but the father and stepmother he loved weren't as lucky. Not only was Hatch left without a family, which would be more than enough devastation for one 16-year-old kid, but his injuries -- a severe brain injury, a punctured lung, fractured ribs -- required a three-month stay in the hospital and put his long-term future, least of all his talent for basketball, into sudden and total jeopardy.
On Tuesday morning, Hatch's story came full circle. The Detroit Free-Press caught up with the still-committed Michigan prospect, who was in such bad shape last summer that he had to be put in a medically induced coma to stop his brain from swelling, and "to be released from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago last fall, his key test actually was walking up and down stairs." Now, Hatch says he is still looking forward to his Michigan career, just like his dad would have wanted:
"I'm still going on a full basketball scholarship. I'll still be on the team and all of that and go to practice and everything. But I just don't know if I'll be quite as good as I was before. But I still have over a year until then, so a lot can happen."
[...] "The most difficult thing is just missing my biological family, because I'm the only one left," he said. "I wish there was an instructional manual in how to deal with this kind of loss."
Doesn't that just break your heart? It's truly devastating. But there's also something redeeming about the way Hatch has decided to approach the rest of his life with optimism. Hatch seems to give some measure of the credit for that approach to Michigan coach John Beilein, who can't openly talk about Hatch (he's still a recruit, after all) but whom Hatch says has been a hugely supportive and understanding figure in his life.
"He is one of the best guys that I know, he's unbelievable," Hatch told the newspaper. "He says you're not going to be as good at basketball -- not yet. It takes time. He understands my road to recovery is not going to be an easy one. It's going to take a lot of work. He's still supportive of me and everything. It's pretty cool."
It's safe to say few of us are challenged in the way Hatch has been challenged, whether physically or emotionally, and that's probably the understatement of 2012. But if a teenager can wake up from a nightmare and still fight like this each and every day, the rest of us have little excuse for our foibles. That's what inspiration is. It's inspiration in the purest sense of the term.
Hatch may never play a meaningful moment of basketball for the Wolverines -- though he might, and let's hope he does -- but he's already made a true impact on the world of college basketball, simply by sharing his story. That's more valuable, and more permanent, than any jump shot could ever be.