There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Matt Hahn learned how to play basketball from his dad. And how to not play.
The Hahns—Matt and his father, Billy—have watched University of Maryland basketball games together from courtside seats for the past four years. Matt’s been in uniform, as a reserve point guard. Billy has always worn a suit and tie, like all of Gary Williams’ assistant coaches.
Sometime within the next month, as soon as Maryland’s NCAA tournament run ends, Matt Hahn’s playing career will officially be over. Truth be told, it’s already over; players at the end of the bench don’t get any minutes come tournament time. For the first time, there’s no “next year” to think about. This is it. Time to lean on that journalism degree he’ll soon earn.
There are guys in Matt Hahn’s situation at every major college basketball program: good prep players whose hoop dreams don’t survive to the next level. But it’s doubtful that many of them accept the end with as few regrets as Hahn. Maybe that’s because his dad once sat at the same end of the same bench for the same school. You can look it up.
From 1973 to 1975, Billy Hahn was a member of what may well be the greatest Maryland team of all time. He came from Indiana hoping to take part in Lefty Driesell’s much-ballyhooed campaign to turn Maryland into “the UCLA of the East,” only to drown in the talent pool the young coach had assembled. Four of his teammates—Len Elmore, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, and Brad Davis—became All-Americans and first-round NBA picks. (Lucas, as a freshman, set a school record for assists in a season that was broken only last week, by Steve Blake.) But at the end of Billy Hahn’s career at Maryland, he had a scoring average, 1.7, considerably lower than his GPA.
But Billy Hahn learned a lot about basketball while sitting at Driesell’s side and watching his talented teammates play. He jumped into coaching right after college, taking assistant jobs at places like Morris Harvey College (now known as the College of Charleston), Davidson College, the University of Rhode Island, and Ohio University.
When Gary Williams took over the Maryland head coaching job in 1989, he asked Billy Hahn to return to his alma mater as the top assistant. Matt, then 11, got to be a ballboy at Cole Field House while his dad worked. Over the next several years, the kid got hooked on ACC basketball, by watching the Duke teams loaded with Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, and Grant Hill, and Kenny Anderson running the point for Georgia Tech.
He also started hearing from Maryland alumni about the type of player his dad had almost been.
“All the time, people would come up and tell me that Dad should have played more, or that he was good enough to play if only John Lucas and Brad Davis weren’t here,” says Matt, now 22. “It was nice to hear that from strangers, because whenever I’d ask him how good he was, he’d never pump himself up or complain about not playing. He’d always just tell me that his years at Maryland were the best years of his life, and he means it.”
So Matt Hahn knew exactly what he wanted after graduating from Atholton High School in Columbia, Md. He was going to try to follow in his father’s footsteps and leave his own butt prints on the Maryland bench. He passed up offers from Division II and Division III schools to enlist in the reserves at Cole as a walk-on.
His goal never was to get time on the court. It was to get time with his dad.
“I was just chasing a dream,” Matt Hahn says. “I had dreamed about playing for my dad for a long time. I know I’m not blessed with any sort of quickness, but I think I’ve got a good heart. And I wanted to give everything I had to make my dream come true.”
The Hahns have shared some fine basketball moments in their years together on the bench. Like when the Terps whupped then-top-ranked North Carolina and Vince Carter at Cole two years ago. And last month’s win on the road at Duke, which Matt Hahn calls the best basketball game he’s ever seen. In those games and all the others, he’s usually been the most vocal supporter of the Terps on the floor.
Williams, who has a reputation as one of the worst browbeaters in the business, has let the younger Hahn know he’s appreciated. After his sophomore year, Hahn got a basketball scholarship. And before this season, he was named a captain of the team, despite never having scored more than one field goal or retrieved more than two rebounds in a single game.
Playing time has proved more elusive, however. As an underclassman, Matt Hahn got some minutes during mop-up time against the cream-puff schools with hyphenated names, like American University-Puerto Rico, and UNC-Asheville, the kind that usually show up early in the season. But Maryland wasn’t putting anybody away when this season kicked off, so Hahn rarely took off his warmups.
In fact, before last week’s Senior Night game against Florida State, Matt Hahn had gotten only 21 minutes of playing time all year and hadn’t even scored a basket. But Williams put him on the floor near the end of the Terps’ rout, and in the closing seconds of the last home game he’ll ever be a part of, he took his last shot—a banker from about 14 feet. And he hit it.
In the grand scheme, with the ACC tournament and March Madness still to come, those 2 points meant next to nothing. But Senior Night isn’t about the grand scheme.
“I’ll take my small victories where I can get them,” Matt Hahn tells me. “All week before that Senior Night, I was looking back and thinking how lucky I’ve been to see the things that I’ve seen. No, I never ran the show or got the glory. But when I leave Maryland, I’ll know I gave it my best—and that I made the right decision to come here.”
As the buzzer sounded on Senior Night, Billy Hahn, too, had plenty of reason to celebrate. Not only had his son hit the big shot, but the bucket pushed Matt’s career scoring average up only to .8 points per game. Dad still holds the family scoring title.—Dave McKenna