Weeks ago, when the schedule for Michigan Madness came out, many basketball fans wondered how sophomore guard Zack Novak got listed as a dunk contest competitor.
Even heading into the preliminary round of the actual contest Friday night, Novak considered himself the “dark horse.”
And after watching freshman Darius Morris bounce the ball off the shot clock, leap into the air and slam home his preliminary-round dunk, Novak couldn’t have felt too confident.
But he’d been practicing.
Novak threw a soft bounce pass to himself, grabbed the ball and provided the 3,500-member audience with a crowd-pleasing — and fan-shocking — windmill dunk.
Novak’s dunk tied Morris’s, each one point off from a perfect score. The contest went into the final round, and that’s where Novak stole the spotlight.
Morris’s final dunk used freshman guard Matt Vogrich, who passed the ball to him from the stands.
But Novak, who went with another windmill dunk — this time of the between-the-legs variety — was the undisputed winner. Teammates flocked to him on the court, and the crowd exploded in cheer after a split-second of awed silence.
Even Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein was shocked. He said he’d never have believed that in a million years — if he hadn’t just seen it.
“The second one just came as a fluke,” Novak said afterwards. “Manny (Harris) did it one day and I was making fun of him, ‘Look, hey, I’m Manny,’ and I went up and tried it, thinking I wasn’t going to come close and then almost got it. I practiced it a few times but I didn’t do it all week. I wasn’t even going to do it going in.
“Darius’ dunk was pretty good in the final round, so I had to try it.”
Morris was in a playful mood afterwards, too, admitting that he couldn’t have done any more with his final dunk.
“Zack really brought it,” Morris said. “That between-the-legs thing was way better than my dunk. He deserved it.”
The dunk contest, while certainly the highlight of the evening, wasn’t the only fun part for the players and fans Friday night.
The rest of Michigan Madness, the first basketball season-opening event since 1996, included a skill competition involving members of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams and a Maize Rage member, a three-point competition — won by sophomore guards Manny Harris and Carmen Reynolds, and eight-minute intrasquad scrimmages by both teams.
One of the rather unexpected highlights came before all that, though. After the players were introduced, coaches from the men’s and women’s teams made their own memorable entrances.
Even Beilein got into “Jump Around,” as he strutted across the court, raising his hands, trying to get the crowd to join him in dance.
In his speech moments later, he said he hoped he didn’t have to dance at next year’s Michigan Madness, too.