Those that know Steve Novak always say that he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He always stops to spend time signing autographs for kids, and anytime an older fan says hi or asks a question, Steve responds as if he has known the person intimately for years. He is just one of those types of people. Former teammate and Orlando Magic guard Travis Diener is one of those people. “Bottom line, Steve’s just a great guy. He deserves everything that he gets. He’s always worked as hard as anybody on the court. He’s a gentleman off the court, just a great guy. His whole family is great too. It’s a credit to Coach Crean, He recruits good people and Steve is a perfect example of that.”
Jeanne Novak, Steve’s mom, said that is just the way he is. “I am so proud and satisfied as a mother because he was always good, he was always active. He always had so much energy – he was always going. Because of that it surprises me that, as hard as he works, he is such a calm adult because of the way he was as a child.”
It didn’t take long for people to realize that when Tom Crean recruited Steve Novak to play basketball for Marquette University, he didn’t recruit a basketball player, he recruited a family. Throughout Steve’s career at Marquette his family could be spotted in the stands at every game, and their attendance wasn’t always easy for the Novaks to pull off. They had to split time between Andrea’s games at Michigan Tech, not to mention the nights where Brown Deer high school played on the same night, with Chris on the court and Mike pacing the sidelines.
On Wednesday night, they were all there for the final moments of the Marquette chapter of Steve’s basketball career. Steve’s parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and they were all proud to be there with him. Draft night was about more than basketball, it was about a son, grandson, a brother and most of all, a family. Everyone was proud of Steve, but no one was as excited as Maggie, Steve’s 11 year old sister. “Steve is an amazing big brother. He’s one of the best – one of the two best brothers you could have. I am so proud of him. This has been so exciting, just over the top. ”
Waiting for Steve’s name to be called was not an easy thing. Steve’s father, Mike Novak, explained the feeling leading up to the point where Steve was selected. “I didn’t think I would be too nervous coming in here, but once it got to a certain point of the show, we knew what range Steve would fall in, and then where we were sitting turned into more of a war room type atmosphere. Coach Crean was working the phones pretty hard, with one in each ear. Our hopes were hanging on every word, there are some teams that we really wanted him to go to and some that we didn’t want him to go to, so we were getting nervous down the stretch so I started sweating profusely.”
Steve’s girlfriend, Christina Canino, explained that the past few weeks have been exciting, but difficult too. “I have been so nervous for the last three weeks, and I was so nervous in there before his name was called, it was so hard, but now that it’s over, its such a relief, maybe everyone will finally get some sleep.”
Steve’s older sister Andrea is quite a basketball player herself. She finished as the #2 all time leading scorer at Michigan Tech. She quickly denies rumors that she taught Steve how to shoot, but she will admit that the family played a part in all of this. “We are his biggest fans, he’s done it all by himself, he’s such a hard worker, but we were there with him every step of the way. I am so incredibly proud. He just worked so hard, it’s just great to see a moment like this for him.”
As close as a family can be, there are not many relationships stronger than that of brothers. Steve and Chris were teammates at Brown Deer high school, and once Steve moved on to Marquette, he often bought Chris down to Marquette to play with his teammates over the summers. Chris worked hard with his brother and it paid off as he now plays at Michigan Tech. “You can ask anyone about their own brother and they will likely says he’s the best, but Steve really is. He has always looked out for me. He’s just a great brother – I just can’t put it into words.”
Steve’s grandparents, Richard and Marie Burkard and Rita Novak shared in the excitement as well. It’s not everyday that grandparents get to see their grandchildren enjoy such a moment, and Grandma Marie couldn’t help but get emotional. “This is a dream come true, for all of us.” When asked what it was like to be in the ‘family room’ when Steve’s name was called, she put her arm around me and said, “Now you’re going to make me cry again.” It was that type of night.
Steve’s immediate family isn’t the only family he has. His former coaches and teammates were in attendance. Not only from his most recent team, but also graduated teammates like Travis Diener, Robert Jackson, Terry Sanders and Marcus Jackson. “When you play at Marquette you really do become family” said Steve. “It means a ton to me that everyone came. Those are the guys that I played with throughout my career, and they had so much to do with what I have done both individually and as a team. I didn’t even have to ask them to come, they wanted to be here with me.”
As close as Steve is with his dad, he also has a type of a father son relationship with Marquette coach Tom Crean. “Right before the pick coach Crean leaned over and said, ‘you’ve come an unbelievably long way. You deserve this night, just enjoy it.’ and all of a sudden he started getting sentimental and I thought, wait a minute, your not talking business anymore and then I got picked. He said that to me and I’m sure it meant so much to him too. Its like having one of his sons get drafted. With all of the time he puts in, the way he dedicates himself – even on this night, it shows how much he cares and it really means a lot.”
Crean was proud to see Steve accomplish his dream of getting to the NBA, but it is the entire Novak family that Crean will remember. “On an occasion like this you get to see that enthusiasm and excitement – that raw emotion that a family goes through. Last year was the same with the Diener family, and the same way sitting with Dwayne in the green room. I’ll never forget those things. The memories get etched in your mind just watching the families enjoy this.”
Crean has spoke about this before, but on draft night, he again explained what he will remember the most about his former star, “My favorite moment of Steve was on the outside, watching him with his family, especially with his young sister Maggie who is now 11, she was 3 at the time. To me he isn’t Steve Novak, he is Maggie’s big brother.”
Listening to all of the stories on draft night, the thing that you heard the most from friends of the family, neighbors, teammates and others was that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer family. Having gotten to know members of the Novak family I have to agree. They have always been friendly and approachable, but most of all, despite Steve’s accomplishments, they have been humble. At the end of the night, the most humble of them all, Mike Novak, put it all into words. “I cried when his name was called, but I cried when he was born too. I’ve tried not to cry in between, but that level of pride has been there with all my kids. They have all made their father very proud in everything they have done. They’re a great bunch of kids, they’ve worked really hard and they have a great work ethic and Steve is certainly one of those four. I am proud of every single one of them. We’re all proud of Steve tonight. He has represented our family very well. I’m very proud that Steve’s a Houston Rocket right now. We have a great family, and more than anything, I’m very proud of that.”
If the Houston Rockets are as lucky as Marquette University was, they will receive exactly what Marquette did years ago. They will not only receive a special basketball player, but a special family as well.
Exclusive video of the Novak Family on Draft Night: Watch Video