8 - Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
What was Tim
DEFYING THE ODDS after his final game
inYost Ice Arena?
Blue-collar mentality drives Novak's success FOR IC HOCY
By RUTH LINCOLN
Everyone could see the blood
Illinois's Alex Legion had just
elbowed Novak above his left eye
while the two battled for arebound
midway through the second half
at Crisler Arena on Jan. 4. Novak,
leavingbehind a trail of blood, was
escorted to the Michigan dressing
room, while holding a towel to a
gash above his left eye. His return
to the game looked doubtful.
But Novak has never been the
type of player to let anything get
in his way. And he wasn't about to
Six stitches later, Novak reen-
tered the game with just over five
minutes remaining in regulation.
He simply wasn't going to miss
the rest of the game.
"That wasn't even an option,"
Novak said. "I just went in and
said, 'Stitch it up as fast as you can,
and here I go."'
YOUNG AND OUTSIZED
enjoyed playing sports in the park.
But he his playmates were a little
larger than most.
An only child, the Chesterton,
Ind. native filled his summers
going to Hawthorne Park, within
walking distance of his childhood
home. He played all sports with
his neighbors and friends: basket-
ball, football, baseball and soccer.
But in second and third grade,
some other friends joined on the
Local high schoolers asked
Novak to fill an extra spot to play.
"I was small," Novak said. "I
just remember there were guys
who would be dunking."
His mom, Dana, a teacher at
Chesterton High School and for-
mer high school basketball player,
knew the boys from school and
trusted they would take good care
of her son.
Once, Novak side-planted on
the gravel during a game. Instead
of laughing and teasing him, one
of the boys drove him home on his
He's now a 6-foot-5 guard but
often asked to guard players three
or four inches taller like Michigan
State forward Delvon Roe or Illi-
nois forward Mike Davis.
In last Friday's Big Ten Tourna-
ment quarterfinal loss to Illinois,
Davis used his four-inch advan-
tage to score 22 points and grab 10
rebounds. But Novak scrapped for
seven boards of his own, including
three on the offensive end.
It's impossible to grow four or
five inches and gain 20 pounds. But
Novak has learned how to even the
As the coach of the local fourth
grade Amateur Athletic Union
basketball team, Novak's father
Dave barely taught offense. In fact,
his teams ran just one set play. The
rest was hustle, aggressiveness and
Novak's father, who played one
year of varsitybasketball at Purdue-
Calumet, coached Novak and some
of his future high school teammates
a little differently than most AAU
coaches.Dave said heetaught defense
up 70 percent of their practices.
"He didn't get mad about missing
shots or not shooting the ball like a
lot of dads do," Novak said. "He was
just (mad) if you didn't dive, didn't
take a charge, not playing help-side
Dave's methods worked. His
teams won three consecutive AAU
Indiana state championships after
When those boys began playing
for their grade-school teams, Dave
recalled that Novak's new coach
was very impressed.
"Coach asked me, 'How did you
get them to play defense like that?
We can't get any other team to do
it,' " Dave said. "By that point, it
was all they knew. I don't know if
you can flip a switch on them."
What if Dave's players didn't
play tough defense?
"Besides getting screamed out ...
it would scare us a little bit," Novak
said. "Other than that, he'd prob-
ably just take us out of the game."
Around the same time, Novak
attended former Indiana coach
Bob Knight's summer basketball
camps. Knight, affectionately
known as 'The General,' was a god
to manybasketball-obsessed locals
during his 29 seasons in Blooming-
ton. Known for his blatant tough-
ness and demanding style, Knight
is a hero to some and a nightmare
WHO WAS TOUGHER?
"I'd say on a consistent basis,
I'd have to go with the General,"
Novak said. "My dad came very
close to Bobby Knight's status
with me a few times. I'm going to
have to go with a draw most of the
time, but I think sometimes, my
dad, he came close."
Dave now makes the three-hour
drive from Chesterton to attend
many of Michigan's home games.
He's not at all surprised to see
Novak scrimmaged with Peller's
It didn't take long for the juniors
and seniors to see Novak's poten-
"They respected him right from
the get-go," Peller said. "It wasn't
like 'Oh, here's an eighth grader.'
They heard about him, but once
they saw how hard he played - he
was diving on the floor, hustling,
he was getting rebounds."
Novak earned a starting spot his
freshman year and stayed there
until his final game as a senior. He
left as Chesterton's all-time lead-
ing scorer, breaking the 55-year-
"If there was a bad play that
he made the mistake, instead of
whining, he would just play harder
and better," Peller said. "So many
kids nowadays, say 'oh it's my
fault' or they blame the ref or pout.
He would just jack it up another
During those four years, his
competitive edge was well-known,
but his future was uncertain.
After Novak averaged nearly 16
points per game during his fresh-
man season, Division-I Valparaiso,
just 10 minutes from Chesterton,
offered him a full scholarship.
Since his childhood, Novak
the way he played."
lated that it could
have been Novak's
ability to do
the court - ' I H
and drive - that
led coaches to
he would fit
into . their
starter on the baseball
team, and many coach-
es didn't know what to
"He was a hell of a
baseball player," Adams
said with a laugh."If I was
going to tell him to concen-
trate on something, it might
have been baseball."
Playing collegiate baseball
crossed Novak's mind, but
offers were not on the table.
And his heart just wasn't in it.
But he wasn't about to com-
Novak entered his senior year at
Chesterton without a clear future
- no scholarship offers and no
"I said, 'I know you love basket-
ball, but you have to look out
for what's going to be best for
you,' and he didn't want to
hear any part of that," Dave
said. "He justtold me,'I'mgoing
to have a great senior year.'"
To add insult to injury, after
being named to two local news-
papers' top-five players lists after NO
his junior season, he was left off
both preseason All-Area top-five HOME'
But instead of getting angry,
complaining or playing selfishly, HEIGH
Novak just wanted to get better.
Early in the season, Chesterton FAVOR
traveled to Michigan City. Michi-
gan City's top player, Jarrod Jones,
already had a scholarship offer to ON ST
Ball State, and was named to the ATTEN
same preseason all-area team that "Until
had passed over Novak.
Novak asked Peller for the and a p
matchup. from a
"I remember him talking, say- Was pa:
ing, 'Coach, this game is real per- if it wa
sonal to me,'" Peller said. "We were
all pissed off that Zack wasn't on You'd
the (All-Area) team. We thought, pants o
'This is absolutely ridiculous these
papers left him off.'"
And the matchup with Michi- and passer
gan City was ridiculous, too. Novak coach John
exploded for 31 points and 14 On Mar
rebounds. Jones was just 5-of-14 bally comt
from the field. signed on
"'Phat's the point -Ijustremem- "I coul
ber that kind of just sparked me," better scri
Novak said. "It was motivation for "Coaches -
the rest of the year." not have p
d his notes to Michigan
ch 9, 2008, Novak ver-
mitted to Michigan. He
d not have written a
ipt," Dave Novak said.
- there's no way I could
'icked a better one. It's
Freshman Zack Novak has made a name for himself 0
Novak dive face first for a loose
ball, and Novak said he credits his
toughness to Dave's teaching and
"Mainly the hustle plays, the
loose balls, never giving up on the
rebound, keep going after it, keep
it alive for one of your teammates,"
Dave said. "Other than that, I
didn't teach him a lot of the ath-
letic, skill part of the game."
Those skills helped him move
on to the next level.
After Novak's eighth-grade
team capped a perfect 23-0 season,
he approached Chesterton High
School coach Tom Peller. Novak
told Peller he wanted to play var-
sity as a freshman. That spring,
WHERE DO I SIGN?
As January of his senior year
rolled around, Novak was still
ANNA BAKEMAN/Daily unsigned. While fighting for every
his year with his gritty play. rebound and loose ball, Indiana's
d of playing at a Big Ten third-leading scorer still didn't
Not necessarily Indiana, have any big-time offers.
is family's allegiance lies, "He would talk to me many
-name place. times about this, how disappointed
raiso just wasn't it. he was," Peller said. "I said, 'Zack,
k declined, and Crusader we can't control what other people
omer Drew filled his avail- do, but we can control what you do.
olarships. It would be a Let's just go out and play as hard
fore Novak's dream school and as well as we can. And that will
ocking. speak for itself. They don't know in
your heart like I do all the intan-
AA-UNKNOWN gibles you bring. But eventually,
somebody will notice it."'
ummer before his senior Oakland noticed in early win-
high school, everyone on ter. Golden Grizzles' coach Greg
Mike Adams's high-pow- Kampe offered Novak a roster spot
iana Elite AAU team had a on his team.
hip offer - except Novak. Valparaiso, which is in the same
ndiana Elite had the expo- conference as Oakland, responded
ie tournaments all over with another offer.
ntry and the notoriety to But Novak wanted the big team
coaches from the nation's and the big stage, and his patience
vision-I schools. finally paid off.
I Novak showed he was a Michigan assistant coach Mike
y competitor. Jackson came across Novak's name.
pecially in summer ball, Assistant coach John Mahoney,
n't really see a lot of guys who recruits the state of Indiana,
on the floor in the sum- checked him out.
Adams said. "And that was Mahoney liked what he saw
comforting to know you sent your
kid away to Coach Beilein."
Around the time Novak was
makinghis decision, a local colum-
nist suggested he should choose
The columnist at the Indiana
Post-Tribune was clear: "Novak
could be The Man at VU. He'd be
just another freshman at Michi-
gan, scratching and clawing for
At Michigan, Novak has
scratched and clawed for loose
balls and rebounds.
But he has been more than "just
Against Minnesota on March 7,
the Wolverines were just 101 sec-
onds from a win that many thought
would seal their place in their first
NCAA Tournament in 11 years.
Down five, the Golden Gophers
put up a 3-pointer and Novak went
after the long bounce at the top of
the key. His feet landed firmly'on
the court and his hands securely
on the ball. Michigan retained its
Everyone notices his sharp
shooting, but little plays like this
have made just as much of a con-
Last season, Beilein's team
often looked lethargic in games.
The Wolverines frequently had
lengthy scoring droughts, and
players got down on themselves
en route to a program-record 22
But his refusal to let in games
up is.palpable. In last Thursday's
60-50 loss to Illinois, the Wol-
verines trailed by 20 points and
a blowout seemed inevitable. An
embarrassing loss on the Big Ten
Tournament stage could have
hindered their NCAA Tourna-
. Novak responded with five
straight points and a few crucial
rebounds that led to a 13-2 late
"He's just exactly what the doc-
tor ordered as far as a guy who is
just a nuts and bolts, blue-collar,
lunch bucket, whatever you guys
want to call him," Beilein said. "He
just does a lot of the garbage stuff
that we need to get done."
Novak does it without a lot of
media recognition, but his team-
mates certainly notice his intensity.
"If he doesn't get a number or
reach his goal of what he's trying
to do, he gets upset," sophomore
forward Manny Harris said. "He's
just tough on himself because it's
important to him, he knows he
supposed to do it.
"I can't pinpoint it. It's not a
frustration where it's an angry,
go crazy. He's just mad at himself,
and you can see it in his face some-
Novak will turn 19 in May. He's
still younger than many freshman
basketball players when they enter
college. Despite his age, coaches
see that he expects perfection
"He gives us a level of tough-
ness," Jackson said. "Toughness
varies in different guys. I just
think he has a passion about how
he plays everything and it doesn't
change. It's consistent, and he's
willing to do whatever it takes."
In less than a year, he has prov-
en to his coaches and teammates
that he won't give up. He's never
satisfied with the status quo - he's
always focused- on pushing him-
He might have gotten the schol-
arship at the big school, but he
hasn't forgotten the work ethic
that got him there.
"I'm just competitive," Novak
said. "I want to win at everything.
That's always been the biggest
thing with me. It doesn't matter
if I'm playing in the YMCA where
there's nobody there or playing
(at Crisler Arena) where there's
14,000 people in the crowd. I don't
want to get beat."