Austin Hatch entered this past basketball season knowing he had to work on improving some skills, and ended it happy he learned a new one.
The Canterbury High School sophomore needed to add versatility to his game to become more than just a good shooter and scorer. That meant becoming stronger and better on defense. Teaming with new Canterbury coach Dan Kline helped make that happen.
Then there was the matter of learning to work with scissors.
“They didn't know how to cut down the nets the proper way,” Kline said. “Austin said he'd never cut down any nets.”
He hopes to keep honing that skill.
“Winning a sectional – a lot of people see it as small and insignificant,” Hatch said. “For us, it was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. But we set even bigger goals.”
For all of Canterbury's sports success over the years, its boys basketball team had never won a sectional title. Led by Hatch's 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Canterbury soared to a 17-5 record, earning a No. 1 state ranking in Class A at one point, and took the school's first boys sectional title.
For raising his game against the best competition – attracting big-time college coaches' attention – and spurring his team to a history-making win, Hatch has been selected as The News-Sentinel PrepSports Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“We talked at the beginning of the year,” Kline said. “We knew he could shoot it and score it, but he needed to do the little things that college coaches are going to pick up and answer the question: ‘How good do you make your teammates?' He did that.”
Hatch grew from 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds as a freshman to 6-6, 214 pounds as a sophomore. Already on the radar of college coaches – Michigan's John Beilein specifically – he drew more attention as the year went on.
Kline, the former Indiana Tech coach, led Canterbury through a beefed-up schedule that included many teams from larger classes in Indiana basketball. Hatch usually met the challenge, highlighted by his performances against Homestead (26 points, 10 rebounds), South Side (37 points, 11 rebounds) and Bishop Luers (30 points, 16 rebounds). Canterbury won the latter two games.
Canterbury had lost eight straight times to Luers, most of them blowouts. Luers won by 15 points last year and 32 points two years ago. Hatch led Canterbury to an 88-82 win over Luers this year, less than a week after a 15-point win over South Side.
“We thought we could get it done this year,” Hatch said. “Believing is one thing, but getting it done is a whole different story.”
Hatch's performance, starting with a good summer of basketball on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit, attracted college coaches throughout the winter. Besides Beilein and Purdue coach Matt Painter, other big-name schools that sent assistant coaches to scout were Notre Dame, Indiana, Illinois and Virginia.
Hatch, who has long-range plans to become a doctor, said Michigan and Notre Dame are at the top of his list, but he hasn't made up his mind.
“Michigan is probably No. 1 right now,” he said. “They've shown the most interest in me, and I'm most interested in them, especially with their academics. Coach Beilein is a great coach, and they have a great group of guys and a great coaching staff.”
Hatch will play this summer with Spiece Indy Heat, a team of quality players primarily from northern Indiana. He credits Becky Levi at Spiece for helping him to become a much stronger player through the weight room.
He knows he has plenty of work to do to become a major-college player.
“I need to become as tough to guard as possible, that sort of thing,” he said. “But the other thing I'm working on is my lateral quickness and my quickness overall to become a better defender. People see offense as the majority of the game, but scoring only counts if you stop them on the other end. So I need to become a more complete player.”
Kline agrees, saying he was pleased with how Hatch responded to being part of an equal-opportunity offense, where plays weren't usually geared specifically for him.
The coach also praised Hatch's maturity level for a player so young.
“I've had the college coaches tell me that sitting across from him, talking to him, is like talking to a 23- or 24-year-old guy,” Kline said. “It's amazing how mature he is.”
Kline expects Hatch to return to the court next season even more driven to succeed. Fort Wayne is full of outstanding prep players, including Division I recruits Rapheal Davis of South Side, Bryson Scott of Northrop and James Blackmon Jr. of Bishop Luers. The News-Sentinel's All-Area team is loaded this year, with some good players being left off the list.
“There are areas Austin needs to improve upon, and he knows it,” Kline said. “He knows he has to become a better player than what he is.”
With only one senior graduating from this year's Canterbury team, Hatch is also eager to see if he can help establish a tradition where cutting down nets becomes second nature.