By NOAH TRISTER
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Zack Novak has a pretty good idea what kind of
reception he'll face when he takes the court Sunday at No. 9 Michigan State.
"Awful," the Michigan senior said with a slight smile. "Yeah, I'm not very
As his college career winds down, fans all over are taking note of Novak's
scrappy style. From Arkansas to Ohio, he's been showered with taunts and
insults — attention that is in some ways a compliment to the Wolverines'
three-year captain. The 6-foot-4 Novak isn't the quickest player, and he
sometimes seems woefully undersized, especially when he's playing forward
and mixing it up with the other team's big men.
But there's no denying the contribution he's made at Michigan the last four
"There's one picture where he got hit at Illinois, I think it might've been
his freshmen year, and he was bleeding all down his face," teammate Stu
Douglass said. "He loves that picture. That pretty much encapsulates
everything about that kid."
It's easy to understand how Novak became the Michigan player opposing fans
love to hate. His enthusiasm is on display every game, whether he's chasing
after a loose ball or trying to fire up his teammates in a huddle. He's the
type of player fans can't stand losing to.
"That's all right," Novak said. "If I was in the stands, I'd be yelling at
Occasionally, Novak's hustle borders on reckless. At Arkansas last month, he
was rushing back to prevent an easy basket in transition. Novak took a wild
swing at the ball but ended up hitting B.J. Young's head instead, sending
the Razorbacks player crashing to the ground. The incensed crowd called for
an ejection, but Novak was allowed to keep playing, booed whenever he
touched the ball.
With about 19,000 new enemies looking on, Novak kept making big shots,
finishing with 17 points and helping Michigan stage a late rally that fell
just short in a 66-64 loss.
Last weekend, it was the Ohio State fans giving Novak grief. On Sunday,
he'll play at Michigan State when the 23rd-ranked Wolverines face the
It's to the point where Novak can compare the hostility of different arenas.
The worst one?
"For me personally? Indiana," he said. "Definitely Indiana."
Novak is from Chesterton, Ind., and he made an immediate impact as a
freshman at Michigan, starting 22 games and helping the Wolverines reach the
NCAA tournament for the first time in more than a decade. He was a captain
the following season as a sophomore.
Despite his plucky persona on the court, Novak does more than just dive on
the floor. As a senior, he's been one of Michigan's most efficient offensive
players. He's averaging 9.2 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the
field — 42 percent from 3-point range.
The game Wednesday night was typical for Novak. He scored 13 points on only
five shots and tied for the team lead with five rebounds.
When Indiana cut Michigan's 20-point lead to two with 12:53 remaining, Novak
made a 3-pointer to start a 9-2 run for the No. 23 Wolverines. They
eventually won 68-56.
"We were struggling," coach John Beilein said. "And he hit a beauty. We were
trying to get him open shots after that. They know he can shoot, too. They
didn't give him too many looks."
No matter how much he may aggravate opposing crowds, Novak doesn't seem to
have many problems with the players he's competing with. Even Young, the
Arkansas guard who was clobbered on that fast break, didn't show any hard
"It was a pretty hard foul. I didn't think he was trying to foul me that
hard," Young said. "Novak's a good guy. I'm not tripping."
With Michigan in the thick of the Big Ten title race, it's a little early
for Novak to reflect on his most memorable moments with the Wolverines. But
he'll leave quite a legacy behind — one that can be measured at least in
part by how he's been treated by opposing fans.
Their ire makes perfect sense to him.
"They all think I belong up there with them — just looking at me," Novak
said. "It's fine."