The state of Indiana is and always has been a basketball hotbed. Despite his Hoosier State roots, Chesterton, Indiana native Zack Novak slipped through the cracks on most recruiting boards. But with newly anointed John Beilein at the helm in Ann Arbor, Novak eventually landed a scholarship offer from Michigan. The Wolverines new headman was looking to fill the perimeter with shooters while also bringing back the culture of a program that had been lost for over a decade.
“I think at the time, honestly, I just felt lucky to even be here because I came very close to probably not even playing college basketball at all,” Novak admitted. “So the fact that I went from day one of my senior year having no offers to ending up at Michigan… I thought I’d be able to contribute and have a good career, but to do some of the things that we’ve done, to be a part of that… probably not what I expected.”
It didn’t take long for Novak to make a name for himself in a Michigan uniform. Despite some bumps in the road early in his freshman year, the undersized power forward saw what his future might hold.
“Freshmen they come in they want to play, and I was no different than anyone else,” he said. “I remember at the start of the season, I sprained my ankle like the second day of practice pretty bad. That was a set back and then it took me a little bit to get in the line up. Coach Beilein… I’ve always kind of been a basketball junkie so I could tell right away just how much he knew about the game. All of the sudden I’m getting more wide open then I had been in years. I could just tell how much he knew. We had success early our freshmen year going to Madison Square Garden beating UCLA. I’d say that’s probably the game where we were like alright we can actually be pretty good.”
That season marked the start of what will be three NCAA tournament appearances, three selections as team captain, and the rise back to being a program that could compete on the national level. That success also laid the groundwork for the William Davidson Player Development Center.
“I think this was a big step for that especially with recruiting,” said Novak. “Before you’d bring a recruit in and you’d take him through Crisler. You’ve got the dusty yellow seats up top and you take them to the locker room which wasn’t too kind on the eyes, and we didn’t have a practice court… we practiced in Crisler every day. Going from that to taking them in here is just, it makes coach’s jobs that much easier.”
The facility upgrades will play a much greater role in the development and experience of future players than they have Novak, but even in that he finds fulfillment. He helped rebuild a program by passionately living his childhood dream... even if it was at a program that he didn’t originally see himself at.
“I think I’ve just never taken it for granted,” stated Novak. I just realized that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. My whole life growing up this is what I wanted to do… I wanted to play in the Big Ten, whatever that was. I wasn’t a huge Michigan fan growing up, but I guess it’s safe to say I am now.”
“It’s gone by really fast,” said Novak. “It seems like I just got here and that sounds kind of cliché. Freshman year seems kind of far away but it seems like I was just finishing my sophomore season like a year ago and all of the sudden it’s senior night.”
Novak, along with fellow seniors Stu Douglass, Corey Person and Ben Cronin will take the Crisler Center floor for the last time tonight at 6pm against Purdue in a much different position than when he first stepped foot on it. Michigan sit’s tied for second in the Big Ten with three to play and a very realistic shot at a Big Ten championship.
John Beilein on his seniors, Purdue, and more.