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Zack Novak gets put in his place with Wolverines

2010-11-02T22:00:00Z 2010-11-18T23:15:17Z Zack Novak gets put in his place with WolverinesBy Al Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
November 02, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

Zack Novak can't help but chuckle when recalling the moment.

At 6-foot-4, which may be a stretch, the Chesterton grad spent much of his first two seasons at Michigan as a starting power forward.

In the elbow-throwing, spit-in-your-eye, floor-burn Big Ten Conference, mind you.

"I remember my freshman year someone kept complaining to the refs about what I was doing," Novak said, shaking his head. "I said: 'Bro, I'm like 6-2. What are you complaining about? You should score on me every time. What's going on?'"

If you didn't know by now, Novak has a linebacker mentality on the court. Even his bruises have bruises.

"That's how I've survived living in the Big Ten, outscrapping people, outworking people, especially when I was playing the '4,'" Novak said. "If there was a loose ball and both of us had a 50-50 chance of getting it, I got that ball a lot of the time.

"That's how I became effective."

A lowlight of Novak's freshman season was his "introduction" to Purdue power forward Carl Landry.

"That was my welcome to the Big Ten, welcome to playing the '4'-in-college-moment ... Landry," Novak said. "I was too naive at the time to realize how many great 4s there are in this league.

"It was fun. I personally don't care if I play the '4' but I think the team has a better shot to win if we have an effective '4' in there."

This season, he's thrilled to be moved to the No. 2 guard spot, where his overall game can flourish.

Novak is among 10 letterwinners and three starters back from Michigan's 15-17 squad, one of the "higher IQ teams" coach John Beilein claims he's had in years.

There are no seniors on a roster that features two juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen.

Who's their leader? Well, Beilein raved about Novak at Big Ten Media Day, saying he's had the most consistently good practices of any team member.

"We really work hard at getting back on defense, locating our man, and if someone turns an ankle down at the other end, we got a 5-on-4 and hopefully can convert the easy basket," Novak said of the Wolverines' full-throttle approach to games.

"It's harder than it looks (in Division I). You score 27 points per game in high school and when you get to this level, guys are actually playing defense. It's not like high school where you get somebody 5-foot-5 on you one night and you're the biggest and most athletic player on the floor."

At the No. 2 spot, Novak will have a better vantage point for shooting, particularly from beyond the arc where he has proven to be deadly.

"We're a little bigger now that I'm back there," he  said. "Tim (Hardaway Jr.) is probably very comparable inside to what Manny (Harris) was and he is also very long.

"Evan (Smotrycz) and Colton (Christian) are much bigger than I was. They'll be able to get in there and do more than I could. Yeah, I'm really happy."

Novak averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, starting 31 of the 32 games. But the team's record was disappointing, to say the least.

"Going into last year, we had a lot of positive expectations that really didn't get met," Novak agreed. "But something that we learned, and what's really gonna help us this year, is learning from that whole experience."

Beilein likes that attitude and he loves Novak, the tireless workhorse.

"He's had to play out of position, play anywhere where we wanted him to play," Beilein said. "He's back where he belongs in the backcourt although I may still have to put him in the frontcourt when we play four guards.

"Guys like Zack may look like they don't belong in the Big Ten, but they belong in the Big Ten."

Beilein projects Novak as a 38 percent 3-point shooter by his senior year.

"With so many kids today, you see that 'I want the ball, I want to score' but Zack Novak brought in a great toughness for us," Beilein added. "And that's why he's on the floor."

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