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March 31, 2013If you build it, they will come. When they come, titles will follow.
"They" are the highly ranked recruits that have taken Michigan basketball to the next level after a Big Ten championship season. The foundation brick, though, arrived five years ago when little-known Zack Novak earned a late scholarship offer from head coach John Beilein and turned around a dormant program.
He's the reason for the renaissance, freshman big man Mitch McGary, sophomore Trey Burke and just about everyone else on the team has said this year, and they wanted him included in the fun. So when they celebrated and cut the nets, director of ops Travis Conlan Facetimed Novak, who is overseas in Europe, on his phone and included him in the celebration.
The Wolverines passed the phone around to give their props to their three-time captain.
"Everyone was just yelling into the phone," Novak said. "I could barely understand what anyone was saying, but it was just cool to see all those guys getting to enjoy the hard work they have put into the season and the program. I'm really happy for them and can't wait to cheer them on in the Final 4."
Especially his prot? McGary, who some call a bigger version of Novak. The 6-10 all-region selection is cut from the same cloth as his fellow Chesterton native, and he might not be in Ann Arbor if not for Novak. When coaches at other schools told McGary he couldn't win at Michigan, Novak helped convince him he could.
Novak couldn't withhold his pride.
"The kids' on another planet right now," he said. "He's been so clutch this entire tournament. He learned how to focus all of his energy and now he's a beast."
And helping continue a basketball tradition of accountability and pride that had gone on hiatus for a few years.
Novak will be watching next weekend, too, but maybe not from so far away.
"Don't count out seeing me in Atlanta," he said. "They are in the Final 4.
"They've done it like Michigan Men."