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Proud alum Novak pumped about Michigan's region-fueled run to Final Four

2013-04-02T17:30:00Z 2013-04-03T02:07:44Z Proud alum Novak pumped about Michigan's region-fueled run to Final FourJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
April 02, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

As Michigan prepares for the Final Four, the maize and blue is flying proudly in Zwolle, The Netherlands.

Former Wolverine Zack Novak plays for Landstede in the Dutch pro league, but has closely followed his alma mater throughout the season and its run to Atlanta.

"It's really cool to see the direction the program is going from where we started," Novak said via FaceTime. "Having guys from the region there this year makes it more special for me. We're cut from the same mold. We all had the same upbringing.

"The rest of our lives, we'll all be Michigan men."

Though it's after midnight in Holland when many of the games air, the Chesterton product has only missed a couple telecasts. He initially watched on his laptop, but then sprung for a TV, which is hooked up to the Internet.

"It was really weird at first," Novak said. "It's a lot more nerve-wracking than playing. I have no control over what happens. It's definitely harder to watch. I get into it. My roommates tell me sometimes I act like a crazy man.

"They've won so much, there hasn't been much to get upset about."

It's a long way from five years ago when coach John Beilein recruited Novak as part of the rebuilding process.

"The goal was to get the program back where it was before," Novak said. "To see those goals accomplished, to be able to be a part of that and take in everything that's happened, it's fun."

Talent now abounds in Ann Arbor with a roster that includes National Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. The Northwest Indiana freshman trio of Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht have all played integral roles.

"I've known Spike since he was in the first grade, Mitch since he was like 10, and Glenn for a while, so it's especially neat for me to see them do so well," Novak said.

"A lot of talented players come in and it doesn't pan out, but they all found the right situation."

While Novak doesn't take personal credit for the trio, he was the one who opened the pipeline to the area. He hosted McGary and Albrecht on their recruiting visits.

"I'm sure it helped to have a familiar face to talk to, but there are so many good people there," Novak said. "Coach Beilein's a really good coach who develops players. Guys start to notice it's a really good situation."

Novak recalls Crown Point's Kyle Hanaway calling him about Michigan recruiting Albrecht. At first, he thought Hanaway was joking, but when he realized he was serious, Novak hustled to the coaches offices to give a thumbs up.

"I told them the kid can play, he's the type of guy you want," Novak said. "What's cool for me is our stories are extremely similar. Spike's just a basketball player. He's a competitor. He's tough. He doesn't back down. He might be physically limited, but he's really smart.

"He can play with anybody and it's great to see him get the chance to do it."

Robinson has been solid all season, and after some ups and downs, McGary has been a monster in the tournament, a big reason Michigan has made it this far.

"There's a huge learning curve with college basketball," Novak said. "Getting a season under his belt is huge. Mitch is in much better shape now. He's put in the extra work and it's paid off.

"He's just dominated some really good players. He's looked like the senior. He's focused right now. I saw the potential with him years ago and I'm so thankful he's realized it. It's fun to watch. If you know him, you're not as surprised as everybody else."

The Wolverines face Syracuse Saturday and with his team's playoff spot secured, Novak hopes to swing the trip.

"They have the talent and they have the coaches," he said. "They're hot. They have a great chance to win it all."

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