By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 10, 2012
Senior guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass built the Michigan men’s basketball program from the ground up, leaving as Big Ten champions. And after Tuesday’s team banquet, they’ll leave Ann Arbor with plenty of hardware, too.
The senior duo nearly swept the award ceremony, garnering a combined nine of the 12 awards, but it was freshman point guard Trey Burke who took home the biggest award of the night. After receiving a standing ovation in the presentation’s opening minutes for his recent decision to return for his sophomore season next year, the night culminated with Burke being named the Bill Buntin Most Valuable Player award, as voted by his teammates.
Burke — the eighth freshman to win the award, and first since Manny Harris in 2008 — also picked up the Gary Grant award for most assists.
Novak took home the Steve Grote Hustle award, the Thad Garner Leadership award, the Bodnar award for academic achievement, the award for Outstanding Free Throw Shooting, the Iron Man award and the Charge award. The six awards gave him a total of 17 all-time honors — the most any Wolverine has ever received. He is the first player to win the Garner Leadership Award and Iron Man Award three times.
Douglass, who shared the Garner award with Novak, also collected the Rudy Tomjanovich Most Improved Player award, the Wayman Britt Outstanding Defensive Player award and the Travis Conlan Sportsmanship award. The sportsmanship award, his third straight, was personally presented by Conlan, who serves as the program’s Director of Basketball Operations.
But it was Douglass’s speech, not his awards, that highlighted the night. Douglass, whose 18-minute speech was by far the lengthiest, opened by reminiscing about the first rep in the first drill he ran as a freshman in front of Michigan coach John Beilein.
After a poor performance in what he remembered as a drill to “test toughness,” Douglass remembers Beilein yelling to him that he was “as soft as a Sunday ham.”
Douglass shook his head and laughed, drawing a chorus of laughter from the crowd. He said it was one of the many Beilein metaphors and analogies that he’ll never understand.
“I had never heard of that before in my life,” he said between chuckles.
But it was Beilein who had the last laugh surrounding the incident, later clarifying to the crowd that the phrase is, “softer than a Sunday hymn.”
Douglass went on to thank everyone from his parents and coaches to the ushers in Crisler Center.
“I thought I was going to try and keep it short,” Douglass said afterward, laughing. “Then you just ramble on, ramble on, and I didn’t even realize how long it was … until I was thanking the team at the end and they were giving me the hurry-up sign.”
Douglass’s lengthiness and long list of people to thank prompted Novak, the following speaker, to jokingly thank his childhood dog, Hoser. After a few more playful jabs at Douglass, Novak’s tone grew serious as he reflected back to all that he has accomplished in his illustrious four years.
“You grow up and you have a dream that one day, for us, you want to play college basketball — big-time college basketball, particularly in the Big Ten,” Novak said. “That day comes, and then that day you dreamt about is yesterday. And you’re left with the memories.”
It was revealed that the seniors are responsible for designing the Big Ten Championship rings, and seldom-used senior guard Corey Person drew some of the night’s loudest applause for his plea.
“We’re all living testimonials that those who stay will be champions,” Person said. “I’ve been waiting to say this since I got here, so Dave Brandon, we worked hard and we made sure that those (championship) rings are going to look good, so I ask you to cut the check.”
Rounding out the award winners were Jordan Morgan, who took home the Loy Vaught Rebounding award, and Matt Vogrich for the Sixth Man award. Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, who recently announced plans to transfer and was the Wolverines’ top bench player, wasn’t named as one of the top three finalists.
CHRISTIAN COMMENTS: Sophomore forward Colton Christian and freshman guard Carlton Brundidge joined Smotrycz as players who plan to transfer, but Christian was the lone player of the trio to attend the banquet.
Christian stood in front of the crowd on stage, alongside Beilein, and drew praise from his coach, prompting fans to give the sophomore a standing ovation.
“No matter what we said … everyday, he said, ‘Coach, whatever you want, I’m here for the team,’ and we really appreciate that,” Beilein said. “He’s the one that — and we invited everyone back — said, ‘Coach, I’d like to attend.’ So we thank you very much for that.”
Christian felt attending was the right thing to do.
“Just to show respect to this team. I felt like I’ve helped them, they helped me grow as a basketball player, and I felt like it would be disrespectful for me not to at least come and support them,” Christian said. “And also for the coaches. They’ve been helping me every step of the way after I asked for a release, so just to help keep that relationship.”
The forward said he’s had interest from about 10 schools, though he wouldn’t name any school specifically. And though he’s from the state of Washington, he played a year of basketball at a prep school in Virginia and said he has heard mostly from high mid-major East Coast schools.
EUROTRIP: Novak and Douglass both shed some light on their future plans to play professionally next year in Europe.
The pair are both in talks with agents and haven’t yet settled on where specifically they’d like to play.
“I can’t wait to get home and be done with school,” Douglass said. “It’ll be a while before any decision is made where I’m going.”
The Carmel, Ind. native said he likely won’t leave the United States until late August, as European leagues typically kick off in September.
“I don’t speak other languages great, so if there’s any bit of English, that helps,” Douglass joked when asked if he prefers any particular countries.
And while Novak has hinted that he may want to put his Ross Business School degree to work immediately, Douglass indicated other plans.
“Probably just playing — I can finally just focus on basketball,” he said. “When I get some money — I have, let’s just say, not much money to my name right now, so I’ve got to acquire some capital first.”
Novak’s current status was significantly more concise than his teammate’s.
“(I’ll) hear pretty soon, as far as agents go and everything, and hopefully, go play overseas next year and get some buckets,” he said.