In life, special moments happen because of the journey predating them.
"Senior Day" remains one of the more charming pieces of college basketball. An opportunity to celebrate young adults as they wrap up a noted chapter of their lives before moving on to the next phase.
Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has been around the sport for four decades. He has seen more Senior Day ceremonies than most. And over the years, keeping in line with his personality, he has done his best to level his emotions in those situations. There's still work to be done, still a game to be played.
But Sunday afternoon at the Crisler Center will be different.
"Yeah, I'll probably get a little emotional," Beilein said Friday with a cracked voice as he did his best to hold back tears. "Like I am now."
Austin Hatch's life changed forever on June 24, 2011.
Beilein's did, too.
Hatch, a 16-year-old small forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., survived a deadly plane crash that took the lives of both his father and stepmother. It was the second plane crash he had been involved in, and it came nine days after accepting a scholarship offer from Beilein to play basketball at Michigan.
Hatch was clinging to life in a medically induced coma that lasted eight weeks, and Beilein was by his side, in his hospital room, during that time. They also were together after he woke up, and together as Hatch regained the ability to walk and talk after suffering severe brain trauma.
And Sunday afternoon, roughly 20 minutes before Michigan hosts Ohio State, Hatch and Beilein will be at center court celebrating a remarkable journey and a moment both have been looking forward to for a long time.
"I've been thinking about this day for a long time, never thought it would actually come," said Hatch, who will be honored alongside Michigan seniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Jaaron Simmons on Sunday. "It's crazy.
"Life's happening now, you know?"
Hatch's time at Michigan, he says, has been life-changing. After going through exhaustive rehab and eventually reclassifying to the class of 2014, he was able to accept the athletic scholarship Beilein promised him. His first year on campus, Hatch appeared in five games, officially going into the U-M record book with a made free throw against Coppin State.
The following season, Hatch took a medical scholarship that effectively ended his playing career. Since then, he's been with the team as a student assistant/manager.
On top of all that, he's been living life.
He'll graduate this spring with a degree in organizational studies before marrying his fiance, former Michigan volleyball player Abby Cole, in June. The following month, Hatch will begin a full-time job in franchise development at Domino's corporate in Ann Arbor.
His Michigan journey is coming to a close. But he knows he'll be linked to Beilein forever.
"I don't think it's an accident I ended up at a place like Michigan. I don't think there was any better place I could've been in the country given the circumstances," Hatch said. "I don't think there's a better man that I could have played for. He's taught me more about life and that's the ultimate measure of a coach.
"A good coach wins basketball games and you can see the results and the impact he has on his team. But the impact he has on developing his players as young men, I know I've definitely grown as a man and I'll take lessons I've learned from him for the rest of my life. ... It's a special bond and it's not going to end when I graduate in April."
Michigan coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Ann Arbor. Video by Nick Baumgardner/DFP
Beilein often describes Senior Days as bittersweet moments. He enjoys the chance to celebrate the accomplishments of his players, but he also knows that day signifies the end of his time with them on a daily basis.
"The end of an era," he says.
With Hatch, though, everything's unique. Beilein and his wife, Kathleen, have viewed Hatch as more than a player during his time in Ann Arbor. Hatch has developed a strong bond with his coach's family throughout the process.
And while Beilein will no doubt be sentimental for the other three seniors walking onto the floor Sunday, his embrace with Hatch will be different.
"There's not a range of emotions, there's just one," Beilein said. "He's a wonderful young man and I virtually see him every day. He's not always at practice, but he's working out. Getting ready to look good on the beach at his honeymoon.
"He's a remarkable person."
For Beilein, the word "perspective" is often one of the first that comes to mind when he thinks about Hatch. Life's never easy, of course. But the amount of adversity Hatch has dealt with in his life and the way he has handled it is something Beilein's still in awe over.
“Once you meet this young man, you’re going to love him forever,” U-M coach John Beilein, left, said of Austin Hatch. (Photo: Mick McCabe, Detroit Free Press)
It'll also be something he continues to share with the rest of his team.
"I'll talk with the team in these next few days again, because many of them didn't know (Hatch's) story until they came here," Beilein said. "It's an incredible story. We've recommended him for the Wilma Rudolph Award which honors those who have survived through adversity. I would think he'd be a prime candidate, though I'm sure there's others as well.
"He's going to graduate with a really good GPA in organizational studies and he's worked his tail off. It's one of the greatest stories that I'll ever be associated with and I'm pleased to be part of it."
For Hatch, life is indeed happening. And it's certainly worth celebrating.
A college diploma, a wedding, a full-time job and a future to be excited about.
"Life's good, man," Hatch smiles. "It's coming together."