New Orleans, LA -- During Zack Novak’s time in Ann Arbor the terms used to describe him have gradually risen in prestige. From lacking in talent and unathletic to warrior and leader… it has been a memorable ride for this three-time captain. Though he still isn’t used to his newest tag -- “Former Michigan basketball player” – he is beginning, thanks to his mature perspective, to adjust to life away from the program he helped restore.
“I think I was prepared,” said Novak. “I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve just always taken the stance that it happens to everybody. Everybody has that last game. At some point it’s got to end. It was a really good run and I had a great time at Michigan. I’m very thankful that I got to go to such a great university and play basketball. My teammates and coaching staff that I got to play with -- it’s got to end at some point. It was a special run -- sad that it’s over, but it happens.”
The heart and soul of the Wolverines is leaving the program in better shape than he found it. The outstanding leadership he displayed while donning the Maize & Blue has earned him a little extra time on his Michigan journey. Novak is New Orleans this weekend along with nine other nominees for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. The esteemed group also includes Purdue’s Robbie Hummel (winner) and Michigan State’s Draymond Green.
“This has been a really good experience just getting to come around with the other seniors that obviously had their seasons ended the same way that ours did,” said Novak. “It’s been a good experience just hanging out with those guys all day. Obviously I’d rather be here under different circumstances -- but you know, this is still fun.”
It has also been very fulfilling. Novak & company took a little time out to stop at the St. Bernard Recreation Center in New Orleans to bring volunteers and students in the community boxed lunches, laughs and plenty of autographs.
“That was really special,” said Novak. “The things the Lowes workers are doing in this community are just unbelievable. I just think their hearts are in the right place. They’re doing a good thing so you know it was good that we got to help them out and it seemed like they really enjoyed it. Some of them got in line for autographs like three times through so I think it was a good experience for them and a good experience for us.”
When not immersed in all of the happenings of Final Four weekend, Novak has at times found himself reflecting upon the legacy left by he and his fellow seniors at Michigan. They believe they’ve made a difference, not only in the on court, but in the mindset of the team and fans as well.
“You know, somebody said it to me the other day -- they said, ‘For the last ten years it’s just been hope around the program. You hoped it was a good team -- hoped they can get in the tournament,’” Novak recalled. “He said, ‘Now we expect it and it feels like a program again.’ That’s just special for us because that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get it back to where it was. Just to be able to do it with that class -- we’re not the most heralded group, definitely not the most talented, but the fact that we could get Michigan basketball back in the right direction… and it’s still, the end goal is to get here to the Final Four. They’ve got the talent there now that if they keep going in the right direction. I have no doubt Coach Beilein is going to get them here soon.”
Graduating with a degree from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan will be quite the accomplishment for Novak, who doubled as a dedicated athlete and dedicated student. The way he sees it, there’s a unique opportunity in the coming years to mesh his business career and his basketball career.
“I’m going to give the Europe thing a shot for a while,” said Novak of his plans after graduation. I’m not ready to hang it up yet. I think I’ve still got a lot of good basketball left in me. It’s just going to be a great experience, especially having that business degree. The world is becoming globalized, so if I can go get some international experience, play some basketball, meet new people, network and win some more games -- it’ll be fun.”
For the full, longer, video interview with Novak, including outtakes from his time in New Orleans, press play below.