June 10, 2011
The University of Michigan men's basketball team was without any seniors in 2010-11, calling upon two-time captain and junior Zack Novak for the leadership duties. Only the second sophomore in Wolverine basketball history to be named captain, Novak has led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament in two of his first three seasons, ending an 11-year drought with the 2009 bid.
The Chesterton, Ind., native proved to be the workhorse for the Maize and Blue as a junior, leading the team in minutes played (35.0), free throw percentage (.831), and rebounding (5.8), culminating in U-M's Iron Man Award, Steve Grote Hustle Award, and Thad Garner Leadership Award.
In an exclusive interview with MGoBlue.com, Novak took time from his summer workouts to discuss everything from his jersey number to his leadership role for his upcoming senior season.
On wearing number zero ... "All of my other numbers were pretty much taken. I was No. 32 in high school, I wore No. 2 in AAU and I wore No. 3 in baseball. Those were all taken, so I decided to try something new."
On comedian Jim Gaffigan also coming out of Chesterton ... "I actually just recently found out that he was from Chesterton. But I've watched him before; he's a pretty funny guy. It's pretty cool that he's from the same town."
On balancing Division I basketball with the Ross Business School ... "It's challenging, but there are a lot of people that are there to help me out and really make it manageable for me. We have good resources through the athletic department. Even fellow students understand. If we have group projects, they let me work on the road. They work with my schedule. It takes a lot of people, but it gets done."
On being a captain the last two years ... "It is something that I've taken pride in. After my freshman year we had a void in leadership, and coach was really worried about someone stepping up. I thought it was somewhere that I could help the team. I'm always just trying to do whatever I can to help us win games. I thought that was an area I could help with, so I focused on that preseason. I've learned a lot. Early on I probably wasn't as good at it as I am now, but I'm still learning everyday and trying to help our team get some wins."
On meeting preseason expectations for the 2011-12 season ... "With the group of guys that we have now, it is an entirely different situation than with the 2009-10 team. After the 2008-09 season, we had pretty much lost all of our leadership in C.J. (Lee) and Dave (Merritt). We were a good team, but I think people overlooked what they brought to the team basketball-wise. They made a lot of timely plays. There was just something missing in 2009-10. This year we're obviously going to miss Darius (Morris) a lot. When you lose a player who is that good, there is going to be a hole. But I think this time around we've got our leaders back and we've got a lot of guys that have some experience now, so we'll hopefully be able to fill that void more effectively than we have in the past. The character of the guys we have is great. We've got guys going in and working hard every day, and they're focused, and that's the biggest thing. Coming as close as we did last year, guys got a taste of success in their mouths, but they didn't get the whole bite. We're hungry for more."
On ensuring next season's success as a senior leader and captain ... "I'm going to continue doing the things that I've done throughout my career. I'm going to work hard every day. Leadership-wise, I'm going to make sure everyone's on the same page. With this team, it's very low-maintenance. I won't have to bring in the guys all the time to get them to play hard. Really, it will just be keeping guys' confidence levels high. We have talented guys, so if we can do that I think we're going to play good ball. We've got the guys; we can beat anybody this upcoming year. It will be a fun year as a senior leader. It's our last time around, so we're going to give it all we've got."
On setting team goals and personal goals for next season ... "We'll sit down soon and start establishing our team goals. We still have to get the freshmen in and get them involved with all of that. Last year, we were just taking it one game, one practice at a time, and I imagine we will take the same type of approach this year. If you get ahead of yourself, that's when you get into trouble, and going back two years, I think we may have had a little bit of that. I think we know that we've got a special opportunity ahead of us and we're all really excited about it, but we really just need to take it one day at a time. Obviously, we'd like to win the Big Ten and the Big Ten Tournament, and then get to the NCAA Tournament and advance past those first couple rounds, which we haven't been able to do in the past couple years. Ideally, that's what we would like to do."
On Darius Morris entering the 2011 NBA Draft ... "I think he saw a good situation for himself with the way the draft was lining up this year. There aren't too many true point guards, especially his size -- I think he measured in at 6-5 and a half -- but it's been his dream his whole life to play in the NBA. He had an opportunity, and I think he did what was best for himself. And just like Tim (Hardaway Jr.) said, we're going to wish him the best of luck. I am definitely going to be following him the whole year, checking in on how he's doing. I did the same thing with Manny (Harris) last year. If there's a game on TV, I'll turn the game on and check it out. More importantly than just a teammate, Darius is our friend, and you want to see your friends do well in life and succeed. I have no doubt, he will find his niche somewhere and do well."
2011 Summer Basketball Q&A Series: Catching Up with the Wolverines
• Catching Up with Guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (6/3/2011)
Contact: Tom Wywrot, Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423