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by Kevin McCarthy
Neither Kenny Hatch’s middle name or nickname is Sisyphus even though much of his hoops life resembles a perpetual effort of dribbling a basketball uphill. From his days as a 4-foot-11 freshman at St. Ignatius (SI) until his success at Cañada College, forsaking the game he cherishes would have been the less frustrating route but this was never his consideration despite encountering numerous rejections and naysayers.
At 4-foot-11 and 97 pounds and after seven years of playing Pop Warner football, Hatch tried out for the freshman football team at SI. “I was cut and warned that I would get hurt.” Undeterred, he then threw his energy into a basketball tryout. “I made the freshman B team. We had a good season and I had fun.”
Hatch tried out for the SI summer league team late in the school year. “I got cut. Again, I was told I was too small. It was heartbreaking and I cried on the way home.”
Devastated at being turned away again, Hatch decided to transfer and “go play somewhere else” away from Jefferson High in Daly City, “where I had spent most of my childhood, played Pop Warner football and my best friends lived. I grew to 5-foot-1 and made the JV basketball team.” He also played football and ran track, the other sports he loved playing.
Late in the year at Jefferson, “I started to grow a bit.” Sprouting up to 5-foot-6. “I also began to develop athletically.” But Hatch transferred back to SI despite his athletic history there because he missed the academic challenge.
“I tried out for the SI summer league varsity team but they cut me. They told me I could play JV as a junior and I didn’t hesitate. I said ‘yes.'” The next week, he participated in the JV tryouts. “I did well. I was the most capable player on the floor.” Despite the assurance, his positive attitude and performance, Hatch was soon cut from the summer league JV squad. “This didn’t make sense to me because I knew the team needed a point guard. After the season was over, the head coach of the JV team told me they could have used me during the season and regretted I wasn’t on the team.”
Re-assessing his hoops future and swallowing his pride, Hatch spent his junior year as the varsity team manager, “keeping stats, shooting game film and getting the guys water. It was difficult to put my ego aside.”
As he recalled, “that’s when it clicked. I had to give them no reason not to be on the team as a senior. I spent every day at the Olympic Club working out for two or three hours in an empty gym. I worked out all year. I was ready and more prepared for summer league tryouts. But I got cut again.”
Crestfallen again, Hatch received a phone call at home that summer. It was Tim Reardon, the SI varsity coach. “He needed players for a tournament in Marin. I remember driving so fast across the bridge because I was excited. That’s how I finally made the team.”
The outcome? “I worked my butt off in practice and I played good minutes each game as a senior, starting a few games and earning the Coaches Award which is given to the player that works the hardest throughout the year. I averaged something like 2.2 points per game but it felt good that I had finally been a part of the team.”
Kansas not calling
“My dream was to play in college as a walk-on at Kansas.” So Hatch departed for Lawrence, Kansas determined to convince Coach Bill Self to offer him a spot on the Jayhawk roster. The reality: “I couldn’t get a call back from anyone.”
“I spent the whole year playing on a club team in Lawrence. We were really good, winning tournaments at the University of Nebraska and North Carolina State. But I knew that I was too young to be playing club basketball and a good friend of mine, Doug Compton, and I talked about how I should go back to California and play junior college. I had another friend of mine, Jason Garcia, playing at Canada at the time, who helped me orchestrate the whole thing, getting me in contact with Coach Matt Stanley.”
Hatch finished out the academic year at Kansas and returned home, selecting Cañada College as the place to begin fulfilling his basketball destiny.
Paying for a summer basketball class so he could try out, summer workouts began and a point guard from San Diego was playing in front of Hatch. “He was better than me.” Then Cañada Coach Matt Stanley left for the same job at Foothill College and Mike Reynoso, Stanley’s assistant, became the head coach. Also, the point guard who was limiting Hatch’s playing time followed Stanley to Los Altos Hills. This opened up a starting spot for Hatch.
“We went 5-22 and it was one of the hardest years of my life. I didn’t understand the game well and I wasn’t very smart. Coach Reynoso challenged me to get me better.” Hatch started 17 of 27 games that year for the Colts and averaged 10.5 points an outing during 2013-14 play.
One thought was constantly on Hatch’s mind in the off-season: “I need to get a scholarship.” Otherwise, his college-playing days would be coming to an end. “I just stayed in the gym. I had built close relationships with Israel Hakim, Rohndell Goodwin, and Crisshawn Clark and these guys would challenge me everyday physically and mentally-to keep improving on different aspects of my game. We would spend hours playing 1-on-1, arguing over every play because we cared so much about the game. Without those guys, I would not be where I am today. It was the most challenging off-season. Guys were passing out during conditioning. I just kept thinking that this guy (Coach Reynoso) will help me get a scholarship.”
Cañada finished 24-7 in the 2014-15 season with Hatch starting 30 games and averaging 8.3 points plus 4.0 assists. “We were one shot away from the conference championship and we went to the Final Four in Los Angeles.” Cañada’s impressive playoff run concluded when the Colts fell 75-68 to eventual state champion Saddleback College.
In that game, Hatch made what turned out to be the play of his basketball life to date. “I had just turned the ball over, so I knew I had to get the ball back. It was at mid-court where I tipped the ball away from their point guard. I dove on the ball, got fouled and hit the free throws. (Texas A&M International) Coach (Bryan) Weakley was in the stands watching the game. Later, he told me that play convinced him to offer me a scholarship because he wanted guys who hustled.”
On to Texas A&M International (TAMIU)
“So I got my scholarship.” He headed off to Laredo Texas, located on the border with Mexico, to play NCAA Division II college basketball.
“It was a huge challenge both in my basketball life and personally. I was expecting to come in and get straight to work, possibly earn a starting spot, and put up big numbers. I was very wrong. At TAMIU, it was about team. Everything was about how to build a strong team, and for me as a point guard, how to lead a team. Coach Weakley and Coach Taylor challenged me everyday and exploited every single one of my weaknesses, until I turned them into strengths. It was the reality of being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and allowing myself to be coached, even when I was being stubborn.”
“Also with the help of my former TAMIU teammates, Anthony Alston, Denzel Bellot, and Jake Eynon, I was able to grow as a player and as a man. Those three guys helped me stay motivated in times where it seemed I could do no right. I will be forever thankful for my time in Laredo.”
Did he succeed on the court?
In Hatch’s senior year, the Dustdevils won the Heartland Conference championship. “Our rings are coming,” despite being on a team picked to finish seventh in the pre-season league poll. He started every game but two, scoring 8.8 points a contest alongside 3.2 assists and a team-high 51 steals, which led the Heartland Conference.
“I knew I wanted to play basketball professionally so I spent most of the spring and summer emailing European teams and trying to network to find the right opportunity to play. I was initially looking to play in England and had signed a contract with a team in South England. I actually spent some time out there this summer, in June, and was excited to start the year off in there. But days after I initially signed the contract, I received an email that said the head coach just received news that another point guard had become available and that they would no longer be needing my services for the upcoming year. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before so I got on the plane home and started to look for my next opportunity to play.”
“It wasn’t looking good for my dream of playing professionally as summer was coming to a close. My Dad actually sent me an email about this camp in Girona, Spain. The camp was basically an exposure game and I thought it could be a great opportunity. The camp lasted one month, and you play games against other Spanish teams in front of Spanish coaches. If the coaches like you, you get invited on a try out for their team. If the team likes what they see during the week-long try out, they offer you a contract for the year. Otherwise, you go home. So I packed my bags and bought a one-way ticket to Spain, confident that I wasn’t coming home.
I told my mom that I would be signing a contract. After being at the camp for six days, I was invited to a try out in Gijon, Spain. I took the first take the train to Barcelona, and then a long train trip to Gijon. After 11 hours, I arrived in Gijon at midnight on a Friday night. I spent Saturday walking around the city and had a brief practice in the evening because I was going to be playing with the team in a friendly game on Sunday night. I was thinking to myself ‘when I get out there on Sunday, I’m not gonna give them any reason to not sign me.’ I think I finished the game with close to 30 points and 7 or 8 assists. The next day, the coach said that they wanted to offer me a contract and I immediately texted my family with the good news. They were so excited for me.”
“Right now we’re practicing four days a week for the upcoming season. I lucked out because I understand Spanish and I speak a bit too” as spending those two years in Laredo provided a valuable, if unexpected, payoff.
Through it all, Hatch kept his academics in order despite whatever was happening with him in basketball. He utilized the litany of ‘we won’t be needing your services’ as fuel to intensify an inner fire and he never blamed or lashed out at anyone, simply accepting his ‘disinvitations’ as challenges to work even harder.
His advice to high schoolers and junior college ballers: “I would say don’t let someone talk you out of your goals and make sure you are working hard every day. Try your hardest with no excuses. Get past the doubts in your head and you’ll reap the benefits down the road.”
Asked about his plans for 10 or 15 years from now, Hatch said, “I want to still be playing basketball. I have a passion to play this game. I want to build a brand of my own and develop players. My way of influencing people is through this sport.”
Hatch added, “There is no way I could do this without the support of my parents and three sisters. The majority of credit I give to them. I doubted myself tons of times but I credit them for understanding the bigger picture. I’m still in the process of writing my story.”
Lastly he offered, “When I was struggling both at TAMIU and at becoming a professional basketball player, my girlfriend at the time, Alexis Perez, was equally as important to my success as I was. She was my rock when things were tough. Every morning she would wake up at 6am with me, and rebound for me. She spent every hour in the gym with me. She helped me form emails to coaches, traveled to England with me, and supported my every move when nobody was giving me an opportunity. Without her, I would not have received the opportunity to play overseas, no doubt in my mind.”