“That was one the best performances I’ve seen in a long while,” said Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun. “Steve Novak was wonderful, magnificent.”
After scoring 41 points and adding 16 rebounds in a 94-79 throttling of #2 Connecticut, Steve Novak had etched his place in the legacy of Marquette greats. The humble, quiet kid from Brown Deer who learned his perfect shooting form from his sister Andrea delivered one of college basketball’s all-time great performances.
In the town of Brown Deer, the Novak family has become synonymous with basketball. Michael Novak has been basketball coach at Brown Deer High School for 22 years, and sons Steve and Chris, and daughter Andrea followed in his footsteps. To this day, Steve still credits learning his perfect shooting form from his sister.
While growing up, Steve Novak would attend his dad’s practices after school and practice shooting. As he got older, he focused on basketball, and would make 300 shots a day practicing.
When the time came to attend high school, Steve chose to play for his dad at Brown Deer and started on the varsity team from day one.
“I always wanted my dad to coach me,” Novak said. “I loved playing for him, and it was easy to keep basketball and family separated.”
On the AAU circuit, Michael Novak would drive Steve and later his brother Chris at all hours of the night to different locations for Steve to play and develop his skills.
As Novak’s skills blossomed, he worried about whether he would get enough exposure playing at a school with just 600 kids, but the AAU circuit helped put his name on the map for all colleges to see.
During the summer before his senior year, Novak was named an All-Star at the prestigious Adidas ABCD camp.
“I got to meet a ton of coaches,” Novak said, as notable names like Tubby Smith and Bo Ryan would attend his high school games and AAU practices.
Before his senior year, Novak announced his intentions of attending Marquette, choosing them over schools like Wisconsin, Florida and Illinois. During his senior season, Brown Deer would make it to the semifinals of the high school state tournament that the Novak family had been attending for many years. After the season, he was named to the Parade All-American team, and participated in the EA Sports Roundball Classic and Kentucky Derby Festival all-star games.
As a freshman, Novak played a key role in helping Marquette return to the Final Four. He won Conference USA’s sixth man of the year award after shooting over 50 percent from three-point range, and earned a spot on the Midwest Regional All-Tournament team.
“The Final Four was incredible, and it was a really good year for Marquette,” Novak said.
During the summer after his freshman season, he was one of the last five cuts for the USA team heading to the Pan-American games.
In his sophomore season, Novak finished second on the team in scoring, averaging nearly 13 points a game. His 30 point effort that included eight three pointers helped lead an upset of then #4 Louisville at Freedom Hall, snapping their 19-game home winning streak.
While Novak showed strong improvements, Marquette failed to reach the heights of the 2003 season, finishing the season 19-12 and losing to Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the NIT. With the top three players coming back, Novak, point guard Travis Diener and freshman standout Dameon Mason returning, 2004-2005 looked to be a promising season.
“I look forward to helping Marquette return to an elite level,” Steve said after his sophomore season.
After starting the season 13-1, including a 63-54 win over in-state rival Wisconsin, a trip to the NCAA Tournament looked to be a foregone conclusion. Then, as Murphy’s Law states, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Diener re-aggravated an ankle injury initially suffered in practice before the South Dakota State game and missed three games and hobbled through losses to Memphis, DePaul and Charlotte.
Novak continually battled a virus that caused him to lose close to 20 pounds. “We went through some rough times,” he said. “It was tough, battling with losing a lot of weight and having a string of mediocre games.”
The struggles came to a head after a 99-52 drubbing by Louisville on ESPN. In that game, Novak went 1-6 from the field, 0-4 from three and scored just two points in 25 minutes.
After the trip back from Marquette, he went to the Al McGuire Center and shot until the wee hours of morning before the coaches convinced him to leave.
“At that point, I was real frustrated with myself,” Novak said. “The best thing to do was to go to the gym and help me deal with the struggles.”
Despite the team’s struggles at the end of season following Diener’s hand injury, Novak showed flashes of becoming an impact player, scoring 25 points against Cincinnati and 23 against Houston. While he had strong performances, the overall team struggles really did get to him.
“What I learned from that is that you do what you can with what you have,” he said. Even with the sickness and injury problems, Novak averaged 13.5 and 4.1 rebounds a game in the 2004-2005 season.