Last July, while his teammates were in Milwaukee readying themselves for the next semester or even the NBA draft, sophomore forward Steve Novak was competing with the nation's best college basketball players in the hopes of making the USA Pan-American basketball team.
Novak and 27 other hopefuls — including Connecticut's Emeka Okafor and Ben Johnson, Missouri's Ricky Paulding and Arthur Johnson, and Syracuse's Hakim Warrick — first traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., where they hoped to make the cut to 17.
They practiced alongside Olympians at the Olympic Village's gymnasium.
Coaching the variety of standouts were Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, Missouri's Quin Snyder and Washington's Lorenzo Romar.
Novak made the Colorado cut and moved on to the next round of tryouts in Orlando, Fla., at the Orlando Magic's training facility. From there the field would shrink from 17 to the final 12.
Novak hit a bit of a cold shooting streak and was unable to show the coaches that his inside game had progressed enough to warrant a spot on the squad.
"I'm not sure anything really went wrong for me," Novak said. "It was more of a thing where I went in with a mindset of things I wanted to work on. I wanted to work on banging down low with the big guys rather than just being a wing player. I've been getting stronger so I can play an inside/outside game.
"I was competing with older guys and when I was cut they told me that some of the guys were just older with more experience. They would have needed me in the post and other guys were stronger in that area than I was."
One of those bigger, more experienced players was his roommate at the tryouts, UConn's Okafor.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound standout is widely regarded as one of the best — if not the best — players in next year's NBA draft."
Okafor "is a (heck) of a player," Novak said. "He's got a (heck) of a body with long arms and when he develops his offensive game, he'll be a top pick in the draft next year.
"It's great any time you can play with guys like this. Being able to play with your country's top guys, it shows you how you compare and what they have and what you need to improve on."
In the Pan-Am games, the Americans fell to Brazil in the semifinals, 92-80. The collegians eventually lost to Puerto Rico, 76-70, in the bronze medal game.,”Steven Pichè”