East Xtra: Novak's career at UPJ is a slam dunk
Nick Novak is second on the list in career scoring at Pitt-Johnstown.
Nick Novak is the career assist leader at UPJ.
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Looking back on an outstanding basketball career through high school and college, Nick Novak nearly has done it all.
As a senior at Franklin Regional in 2009, this Murrysville native led the WPIAL in scoring at 28.2 points per game and was a member of the Post-Gazette Fabulous Five. While at the University of Pitt-Johnstown, Novak has earned first- and second-team All-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors, scored nearly 2,000 points and owns the school's all-time career assists record.
But there still was something missing from his repertoire -- a slam dunk in a game.
Not until the seventh game in his final season of basketball -- the 91st of his collegiate career -- did this 6-foot point guard accomplish his air-walking feat.
"That's been something that's been highly debated since I've been here," he said with a laugh. "I've had so many people yell at me because I get so many fastbreaks and they ask me why I don't dunk it. It pretty much comes back to something my dad always told me, that the ball goes in the hoop. It's hard for me to score out there. When you get an easy [shot], you take it. You don't want to mess around and miss a dunk because you don't know when your next basket is coming.
"But it was against probably the most athletic team [Bowie State Dec. 5] that we played all year. I jumped a pass and I was coming right up the middle right at the front of the rim and I decided 'just do it.' "
Novak has been doing it his entire career and he is winding down one of the most outstanding runs not only at NCAA Division II Pitt-Johnstown, but at any level.
He has scored 1,926 career points, second only to Justin Walther's 2,073 points on the school's all-time list, and he set the UPJ assist record Saturday when he finished with nine, bringing his career mark to 527 to break William Sharpe's record of 520.
To own the school career assist record is quite an accomplishment for a point guard. To approach 2,000 career points is a monumental milestone for any player. But to combine both statistics?
"I never even dreamed of it," said Pitt-Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina, who resides in Lower Burrell. "To do both is just incredible. He needs the ball in his hands. He's not a guy who is going to come off screens and catch and shoot the ball. He's basically going one-on-one and going to break you down. That's how he scores and how he gets his assists. He finds people."
Novak has had a knack for finding people.
As a junior last year, he led the Mountain Cats in assists at 4.1 per game and scoring at 19.5 points to land first-team All-WVIAC honors. In his sophomore season, he again led UPJ in assists with 5.5 per game and was second in scoring at 18.0 to earn second-team All-WVIAC. He was named to the WVIAC All-Freshman team his first year at UPJ with an average of 4.1 assists and 12.8 points per game.
"I've been lucky since I've been here," Novak said of his assists. "I've played with a lot of people who can score as well. It's not always point guard drives and throws a bounce pass to the big man for a layup. I get a lot of assists from driving, people helping and then I kick it out to all the good shooters we have. I've played with a lot of good people here who have made a lot of shots."
But there has only been one person who has scored more than Novak -- Walther.
Novak, who has started all but three games in his four years at Pitt-Johnstown, is averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game this season and leads the team in field-goal percentage (.548) and free-throw percentage (.851). He also is averaging 6 assists per game, 3.3 rebounds and has 57 steals. He has been the leading scorer in 18 of UPJ's 24 games this season.
"I try to make things happen," he said. "I have the ball in my hand so much, I don't really look to do something initially. The first thing I try to do is beat my man. Whoever is in front of me, they could be in fullcourt if they are pressing or half-court, the first thing I'm trying to do is get past my man.
"If I get a step on him and I can get to the hoop that's probably my first option or maybe my pull-up [jump shot]. I just like to beat my man and then when somebody helps I'll see what I can create from there."
Nationally in Division II, Novak is 11th in assists per game, 12th in scoring per game, 24th in steals, 48th in free-throw percentage and 55th in field-goal percentage.
"He just has a knack for scoring," Rukavina said. "I've been coaching college now since 1985 and he has the best pull-up jumper and he's the best finisher I've ever coached. He can just create his own shot. Today, with the 3-point line a lot of guys just shoot 3s or they go to the basket but nothing in between. He has that mid-range game, which is rare today."
Novak has two more regular-season games to add to his statistics. The Mountain Cats (14-10, 10-10) host first-place West Liberty (25-1, 19-1) at 7:30 p.m. today and wrap up the regular season with a 3 p.m. home game Saturday against Seton Hill (13-11, 10-10).
"I couldn't be happier," Novak said of his career at UPJ. "I decided when I got here I wasn't going to look back at anything, I was going to make the most out of my time here. I couldn't be happier with the teammates I've played with over the past four years. Playing for coach Rukavina, it doesn't get any better than that. He's been really helpful since I've been here and he has always let me play my game. I don't have any regrets looking back."
Especially now that he has finally dunked in a game.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am