May 9, 2012

Borton's Blog: Leave 'em laughing

Anyone spending time around Zack Novak knows there's more to the fiery competitor than just an angry edge around the basketball court. Attendees at the Bob Ufer Quarterback Club banquet on Monday night enjoyed Novak's self-deprecating humor.

Head coach John Beilein began on a serious note when introducing Novak, a Spirit Award winner on the night. Beilein recalled being asked to speak at the banquet when he first arrived at Michigan and noticing his sport unrepresented on the dais.

"I sat here and there were no basketball players with any awards," Beilein noted. "The second time [I came], there were no basketball players with awards. I really felt that's where we had to get the program to be, where we had a program good enough and young men worthy of this distinction."

He then described Novak as a "great all-around athlete," someone who could have been a terrific wrestler, hockey defenseman, or football cornerback. (Brady Hoke quickly corrected him, adjusting Novak to safety).

Then, acknowledging the day's outing at the University of Michigan Golf Course, Beilein addressed his next comment to U-M men's golf coach Chris Whitten.

"Chris, that's the one thing I know," Beilein offered. "He would not be sitting next to you, unless Happy Gilmore can make a comeback. Every club would be broken by the end of the first round. His passion is unbridled."

Novak's passion, Beilein insisted, proved a key component to rebuilding Michigan basketball.

"At Michigan State - you all saw it on TV - it's a good thing that what was being said was not captured," Beilein said of Novak's volcanic sideline huddle outburst in 2011. "We were 1-6 at that time in the league. We were really struggling.

"Through his leadership, since that day, since that famous speech at Michigan State and Stu Douglass' great shot, we're 34-16, playing what turned out to be the top schedule in the country this past year."

Beilein noted Novak logged more than 4,300 minutes and better than 200 three-pointers for the Wolverines. He grinned when adding: "We all agree, he only shot the ball sometimes when he had it, right? Many of those were 'What the heck … great shot, Zack!'"

At the end of the introduction, Beilein said he'd been asked how Michigan won the Big Ten, and how it will build for the future. He insisted it was, and will be, by recruiting people like Novak, and concluded by saying: "This is the smallest and toughest power forward in the world."

Novak kept the mood light. He also commented on his links prowess, or lack thereof.

"First, I'd like to apologize to my golf team," Novak noted. "Unfortunately, the only place I score threes is on the basketball court."

Novak then gave a shout out to some of his fellow recruiting sleepers on the dais, including hockey standouts Luke Glendening and Shawn Hunwick, along with football's Jordan Kovacs. Novak first recognized two-time national wrestling champion Kellen Russell, who doesn't fit in that crew.

"Then I look at Luke and Shawn and Kovacs," Novak said. "I thought it's time we continued the trend of kids who weren't really supposed to be good but turned out being all right."

The athletes each receive a question to answer as part of their speech. Novak's inquiry involved incoming freshman Mitch McGary, who hails from Novak's hometown of Chesterton, Ind.

"As an alum, I'm allowed to expect things of the program now, and I'm allowed to be extra judgmental," Novak deadpanned, as the audience broke into laughter. "So all I'm going to say is, I'm really thankful you stopped getting the guys who are not supposed to be so good but might turn out all right.

"He'll be a really good player for us. Finally, a good player out of Chesterton. We've been thirsting for this for a long time. The 80 people there deserve it."


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