Day 2 in Rome: Sunday, Aug. 17
After the long flight with little sleep and a full day on Saturday, Coach Beilein decided it was best for the team to go to bed early Saturday night and have a late wakeup before the game on Sunday. However, he said he was going to mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican early Sunday morning and welcomed everyone to join him if they would like. There was no way I was going to pass this opportunity up. We ended up having nine people meet in the lobby of our hotel at 6:30 in the morning to go to mass. Our group included Coach Beilein and Mrs. Beilein, Coach Jordan and Mrs. Jordan, Austin Hatch and his grandfather Jim, Jim's friend Dave, Pete Kahler (director of basketball operations), and myself. We arrived at the Vatican at 6:55 a.m. to meet with a priest from Lansing who is working at the Vatican to train young seminarians from the United States. The priest is a huge Michigan fan and offered to give us a tour of the Vatican and a private mass. None of us had any idea where he was about to take us.
There were very few people at the Vatican this early in the morning and this was a great experience in itself. We were taken through the Basilica quickly and gave us all security clearance to enter the catacombs below where many former popes were buried. I had thought we were just going for a quick tour before heading to mass but the priest led us into a chapel and started the preparations for mass. He explained that this was the Clementine, the closest room in the Vatican to the bones of St. Peter. This was incredible because St. Peter's death is the reason that the Vatican is where it is today. After our closed door mass we finished the tour of the Basilica and were led to a nearby rooftop with an incredible view of the city before we headed back to the hotel for breakfast. We arrived back at the hotel while most of the team was just waking up but being a little tired was a small price to pay for this once in a life-time experience.
After a short walking tour and a visit to the Spanish steps we headed to Stella Azzurra for our game against the Perugia All-Stars. We started off strong going up 13-3 in the first couple of minutes and never looked back. The Perugia All-Stars played hard and fought until the end but they knew they were outmatched. Especially with Zak Irvin shooting the way he did. Zak finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists including 5-5 shooting from beyond the arc, not a bad day at the office. Despite Zak's great performance, there was another player who truly stole the show.
I was in charge of filming the game and had the pleasure of sitting next to Jim Hatch, who I had gotten to know pretty well at the Vatican and throughout the game. With a couple minutes left in the game, Coach Beilein called a timeout with Muhammad going to the line for two free throws. After the timeout Muhammad went back to the line and Austin Hatch walked over to the scorer's table. As he kneeled down to check in a buzz had started in the arena especially among our fans and players' families. It seemed the only one who had not yet noticed who was checking in was Jim Hatch, himself. As Muhammad shot his first free throw I pointed to the scorer's table and said "Austin's checking in!" Jim looked at me, looked back to the scorer's table and said just barely loud enough for me to hear, "oh my god." After the free throw Austin checked in with a standing ovation from the crowd and a look on his grandfather's face that I'll never forget. Austin had gone from having to re-learn to walk just two years ago, to checking in for the Michigan basketball team. After the game I congratulated Austin and he pointed out that he still has work to do but it felt good to be back on the floor. It felt good for everyone.