Hutton: Zack Novak a role model and a trendsetter
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 3, 2012 11:00PM
FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2012, file photo, Michigan guard Zack Novak (0) goes for a layup in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in Ann Arbor, Mich. When Michigan takes on Michigan State on Sunday, Feb. 5, in East Lansing, Zack Novak expects an "awful" reception. The Michigan senior is used to that by now, and he understands. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Updated: August 5, 2012 6:36AM
Michigan coach John Beilein called Zack Novak the most under-appreciated 6-4 power forward in the country at the season-ending banquet.
It was the ultimate compliment for a competitor. Novak always played bigger and better than he was. Or anybody, even sometimes himself, thought he was.
Novak’s incredible, unlikely run with the Wolverines ended with more than a few eye-popping stats: he was first all-time in career minutes, fourth in career 3-point field goals with 213, and third in career starts with 122.
That’s above and beyond the 1,066 career points he scored and the 500 rebounds he pulled down.
Pretty good stuff for a guy who was on his way to a mid-major school such as Colorado State or Oakland before Beilein swooped in late during Novak’s senior season at Chesterton and offered him a scholarship.
Even today, as Novak prepares to return back home for his first basketball camp at Chesterton, he has to pinch himself to believe how it all turned out. He can laugh now about how he actually got the offer from Beilein. He was in class one day in February of his senior year when Beilein called his coach, Tom Peller, out of the blue. Novak barely believed it was the Michigan coach when he took the call. Beilein asked for some tape and told him they were interested. After going back and forth for about a month, he finally offered him the last scholarship. Nobody, at that point, was sure of how it was going to work out.
“I could give you the political answer and say I knew I was going to start right away,” he said. “But if you would’ve told me that I would play all four years and leave Michigan as a three-time captain and go to three NCAA Tournaments as a major contributor, I probably would’ve said that was a long shot.”
Novak also recognizes the irony of his time at Michigan. Most freshmen arrive expecting to play major minutes and contribute right away. He came on campus star-struck with zero expectations. A couple of weeks into his first season he figured out he could actually play with them.
“It took me about two games to figure it out,” he said.
Novak’s legacy goes well beyond what he did on the court for the Wolverines. It’s what he did for Beilein that has helped put them near the head of the class in the Big Ten.
Novak’s rise in Ann Arbor and his relationship with Beilein have turned him into a major player in the region.
Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht all have followed Novak to Michigan. This area no longer belongs mostly to Purdue coach Matt Painter. It’s early, but Beilein is already in on sophomore point guard Hyron Edwards of East Chicago.
Novak feels a bit like a beaming father, particularly with McGary and Albrecht. He played with McGary at Chesterton and he’s known Albrecht since he was a kid.
“It’s cool to see Spike and Mitch there,” he said. “They’re cut from the same mold. I’m really proud of them having the opportunity to come here and have them help turn it around. It’s a big-time program. Hats off to all of them.”
His own ambitions were fueled by his success at Michigan.
He’s going to play in Europe next year — somewhere. Right now, he’s waiting to see where the players drafted end up. His progress his senior year — going from basically a stand-up jump-shooter to a guy who could score off the dribble or pull up and make a shot — has made him more attractive to European teams. Soon, he’ll be happy to be home for a week, showing kids that anything really can happen with some luck and a lot of hard work.