East Xtra: Franklin grad hopes to step up in Europe


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While thriving as a Pittsburgh area basketball star, Nick Novak has always stood alone.

He stood alone in 2009 when he was crowned the WPIAL Player of the Year after scoring 28.8 points per game as a senior at Franklin Regional.

He stood alone last year, when he left Division II University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown as the school's career leader in assists, field goals made and free-throw percentage.

He still stands alone ... just not in Pittsburgh. After leaving Western Pennsylvania in August 2013, he is now the only American on the German professional basketball team SSV Lok Bernau.

"I knew no people. All by myself. It was quite different," Novak said of arriving in Berlin. "Whenever I got there, [my teammates] picked me up from the airport, and they took me and they showed me my apartment. And they said, 'We've got practice at seven. The gym is about a half mile down the street to the right.' So, you're kind of on your own once you get there."

After one season in Germany, where he averaged 15.8 points and four assists per game, Novak is currently competing at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Summer League, with league games at Montour High School.

A scoring point guard, Novak first considered playing professionally overseas as a sophomore in college and was contacted by agents later on during his college career before he chose Guillermo Pascual of Dynamics Global Management to represent him. Finding a place to play, however, took some effort.

"There's a misconception with a lot of people. They just think, 'Well, I'm not going to the NBA, I'm just going to head overseas,' but you have to have a lot of good numbers and be really efficient," Novak said. "You have to get pretty lucky. You have to have someone in Europe who has never watched you play before like your film and like what you can do and find a role for you."

Novak found that. But he also found a city and country foreign to him. And although he was comfortable on the court and often spent time with his teammates on the weekends, passing time during the week was a struggle.

"Compared to a college athlete, you are used to being with your boys," he said. "Your [college] team is your boys. That's you're family. You're with your boys all the time. So you go from that to, [being] on your own where no one even speaks English."

When he arrived in Berlin, he searched for anything American he could get his hands on, eventually discovering a movie theatre that played English-speaking movies and bars that would show NFL games on Sundays. And although he embraced the newness of the experience, his eight months overseas contrasted starkly with the two-plus decades he spent in Pittsburgh.

"I went to every college game Nick every played," said Novak's father, also named Nick. "In four years, I never missed a game."

That wasn't possible, however, with an ocean separating the Novak family. The elder Novak made two two-week trips to visit his son, but beyond that Novak had to take advantage of social media and technology to stay in touch with his family and girlfriend, who were in Pittsburgh.

"Lots of FaceTime," he said.

But after a summer at home, Novak will be ready to go abroad again in August, although he's not sure where. He has an offer to return to SSV Lok Bernau, but is hoping to play in a more prestigious league next year.

"I had a year to get used to it [in Berlin], but I'll play wherever is a good opportunity," he said.

Beyond the Pro-Am, where he's averaging 16.8 points, and performing individual workouts, Novak is also polishing his game at The Scoring Factory in Oakland under the supervision of Pete Strobl, a skills development coach who played and coached overseas for nine years.

Novak is focused especially close on his 3-point shooting this summer. Throughout his career, he has rarely been asked to shoot much from long range but after shooting 34.4 percent from deep in Germany, he is working on his jump shot. He's hopeful that by continually developing his game, he can play basketball indefinitely.

"[I want to play] as long as I can," he said. "It was definitely a hard transition and you're like 'Oh, I want to be at home.' But when you come home for the summer, you learn pretty quick -- even if you just have a job or something like that -- working is a lot harder than playing basketball. So, it's something that I'll pursue as long as I can do it."

If one day, the phone never rings and he is forced to hang up his basketball shoes, he thinks a career in training or coaching or working in sales for his dad's welding supply company could be career paths he might take. But he's not considering those options yet.

"Right now, I'm kind of planning on basketball. I think if you kind of make it your only option, you work harder toward it."

Besides, despite all the unfamiliarities of a foreign country, Novak has discovered something in his three months home.

"I kind of miss [playing overseas]. I kind of want to go back."

Hayes Gardner: hgardner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @HayesGardner.


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