November 8, 2012
Borton's Blog: Look back, ahead
The eve before the Michigan basketball opener offers a perfect time to reflect on coming a long way in a relatively short time. There's nobody to better sum it up than a captain from last year.
Zack Novak is still fired up over basketball, and showing it in front of a whole new audience
in The Netherlands. He's playing for the Landstede basketball club, averaging 17 points and six rebounds a game, after adjusting to some early ups and downs in a foreign land.
Not so many months ago, he was wrapping up his career at Michigan with a Big Ten championship, one he insisted was coming but that few others would have ever believed possible.
Suddenly, it seems very possible. Michigan stands No. 5 in the nation, one of the favorites in the Big Ten and a team that could go deep into the NCAA Tournament. It features a roster more loaded with talent than any head coach John Beilein has seen in Ann Arbor.
Novak saw it coming, or at least believed it would.
Stumbling upon some of his quotes from a lengthy interview session last spring provided the perfect opportunity for reflection. Novak and fellow captain Stu Douglass came to Ann Arbor on faith, and for a chance to build something special.
"Coach Beilein did sell us on the fact that 'You've got a unique opportunity here. The program has been down, and we're going to need people to get it back,'" Novak recalled. "I don't think anybody thought that we'd necessarily be the group to pave the way for that. I'm just glad it worked out, and luckily they got some good players to come in and play with us.
"I saw very early on that Coach knew what he was talking about, and that he was a leader. The guys that we had, we had the success early. We knew that the way he plays, the way he wants us to play, we could have success playing that way."
Novak also knew that Michigan's talent level - given the success he believed would come, and the facilities going up around him - only stood to increase.
He was never going to back down from anyone, and yet he could self-deprecatingly acknowledge never threatening the legacy of Michael Jordan.
"We heard it, especially early on, how we sucked," he said, with a laugh. "'Michigan basketball coming back is a joke, because we've got two guys they picked up at the YMCA on the team.' It's just nice that we were able to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.
"We just kind of tuned it out. I'm sure we joked about it every now and then. We both think it's kind of funny when people say things about us. That plays to our advantage.
"I'm sure people still look at us
and other teams do. We get in the NCAA Tournament, and other teams are like, 'Are you kidding me? Look at this.' But it's worked out."
And it continues to work out. Novak cautioned to look out, when players like Mitch McGary, from his hometown of Chesterton, Ind., began to hit the campus. McGary and four other freshmen are on hand, making up a loaded crop of newcomers, to be followed by another loaded freshman class next year, and
And basically, the captain saw this coming. He's a long way from home, but as the results roll across the ocean, he'll be smiling - maybe even with a little fist pump.
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