Making bench warmer

Terps: Senior reserve Matt Hahn chose a closer relationship with his father, assistant coach Billy Hahn, over more playing time at a smaller school.

March 01, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Some sons rebel from their father.

Matt Hahn chose a college basketball career on the bench to get closer to his dad.

No. 17 Maryland wants to maintain its red-hot ways against Florida State at Cole Field House tonight, in the Terps' home finale. It is Senior Night, and tradition dictates that Hahn, the only Maryland player in that class, will start.

It would be a memory as warm as any for a walk-on who has logged all of 96 minutes in his Terp career.

Matt wanted more than a long-distance relationship with his father, Billy, who has been coach Gary Williams' right-hand man since 1989, when the two coaches set about restoring Maryland. That's nice, but has Matt ever longed to be a big fish in a smaller pond, say in Division III, or at one of the Ivy League schools he explored?

"Guys can fault me, because I never really had a chance to play, but I had my reasons to come here," Matt said. "When I was growing up, I didn't see him as much as a lot of people see their dads. He was always on the road, traveling I made a decision to chase a dream. I always wanted to be where my dad was."

As Kathy Hahn, Billy's wife and Matt's mother, said: "They've spent more time together in the last four years than they did in the first 18."

The Hahns do not take for granted the stability they have derived from a profession that often becomes itinerant labor.

Matt was born in Kingston, R.I., 22 years ago this week, when his father was a first-year assistant with Rhode Island. Matt started school in Athens, Ohio, where his father was the head coach at Ohio University.

His mother still has the tape of a sports segment a local TV station did on Matt, when he declared, "Wherever my dad coaches, that's where I'm going to play."

Matt was a ballboy at Ohio U., and Maryland. Ashley, his sister, was a cheerleader at Terp games before she did flips for Atholton High, where she's a junior.

Matt started on two Atholton teams that won Howard County championships, averaged 13.6 points as a senior and was the county's top three-point shooter.

The Raiders had the misfortune of being in the same region as Dunbar High in 1996, and in Matt's final high school game, he was recognized with a box-and-one defense by the Poets. The man marking Matt was Tommy Polley, one of the defensive heroes on Florida State's national football champions.

Matt's best games came against Catholic League opponents. He had 23 points at Calvert Hall, but a Cardinals junior named Juan Dixon outdid that and beat Atholton with a late three-pointer. Matt weighed more than Dixon at the time, but at 5 feet 10 and 145 pounds, he understood that he was not an Atlantic Coast Conference prospect.

"Matt had opportunities to play at the Division III level," said Jim Albert, the longtime coach at Atholton. "It had to be difficult for him at Maryland in the beginning, after he realized how little he would play, but I'll tell you one thing: Even though he doesn't play much, they are a better team for it.

"His attitude had to rub off on that team. When I see their games on TV, I see him on the bench, and he's the same way he was in high school. Patting somebody on the back, picking somebody up."

Matt sees his role a source of inspiration.

"I dive on the floor in practice, and I do all these types of hustle plays," Matt said. "Subconsciously, I think guys with a little [more] talent say `OK, look at this guy, he has absolutely no talent, and he's getting the most out of what he has. If I do that, how good am I going to be?' Guys respect that."

Matt runs the scout team offense. His father will break down an upcoming opponent's sets, and Matt, other reserves and redshirt wing Byron Mouton get 15 minutes to learn the cuts and screens. They then test the first team, and the Hahns surely have had something to do with Maryland leading the ACC in field-goal percentage defense.

A journalism major who has worked for the campus radio station and interned with a TV station in Washington, Matt said his dream job belongs to Jay Bilas, the ESPN studio analyst.

Asked if he would like to follow his father's line of work, he said, "I'm trying to get disinterested. My mom tells me all the time I'm too smart to coach."

Listed on the ACC's Academic Honor Roll, Matt has a cumulative grade-point average of 3.4, which has raised the team's GPA. His mother, incidentally, was commenting on the demands facing a Division I assistant, not her husband's intelligence. Billy also received ACC academic honors.

The Hahns were surprised to learn that they are the first father-son letter winners in Maryland basketball history. Billy played in one of the greatest college games ever, the 1974 ACC tournament final loss to North Carolina State, and a year later he captained the team that extended its school record conference winning streak to 10 games, a mark this season's team can equal this week.

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