SLAM: Tell us about your hometown.
SN: When I was in third grade, I moved to Brown Deer, which is a suburb of Milwaukee and has about 12,000 people. My dad was the high school basketball coach when we moved there. Pretty much from kindergarten on, after school my mom would pick me up and take me right over to my dad’s practices. I would just go shoot in the gym and hang out while his team practiced.
SLAM: I heard that even before that, your dad put a hoop on your baby crib.
Steve Novak: My dad literally put a hoop on my crib, that’s no joke. I think that’s just part of growing up in a basketball family. I started as early as anybody playing in little Y leagues and stuff like that. My dad was a high school coach since I was born. He was my high school coach. He coached for 26 years at my high school. His dad played professional ball, my dad played in college. My older sister played basketball at Michigan Tech University, she was Player of the Year in her conference her senior year. Then there’s me, and then my little brother, he played at Wisconsin-Oshkosh for three years. And then my little sister is actually in high school now, she’s a senior. She hasn’t committed anywhere yet but she’s a good little player and she’s getting interest from a lot of Division I schools. So it’s kind of the whole family.
SLAM: Was there one place in your hometown that really helped you develop your game?
SN: Brown Deer High School gym. When I was a little guy, I’d get to the gym and I’d ask my dad for a dollar. I’d go get candy out of the vending machine and I would go dump it on the floor and eat it right in the gym. I love being in the gym, I’ve always been that way. And the other place would be the halfcourt my dad built in the backyard of our house. That was really where I started to truly work on my game. Starting in eighth grade, I would make 300 shots every day after school. That was my home court.
SLAM: Sounds like having your father guide you toward basketball was really important.
SN: Yeah, it was huge. I’m reading a book right now called Outliers, and it talks about why people are exceptional, and talks about how you’re raised and the opportunities you’re given and the people that affect you in your life. And I think about my path to where I am today, and there’s no doubt that having my dad as my high school basketball coach and having a court in my backyard, always having the keys to the gym, was huge. He really is the reason I am what I am today.
SLAM: What position did you start out playing?
SN: People always said to me because I’ve always been the tallest kid in my class, I’m like 6-10, or little kids when I speak at camps will always say, “Are you a center?” or “Were you a center when you were my age?” and stuff like that, because I’m obviously pretty tall compared to the little grade school group I talk to. But then you see these guys in the NBA that are like 300 pounds. And I tell them I was just really fortunate because when I started playing, it was on a 10-foot hoop with a men’s basketball on the other end, like, “Go down there and play.” I would just shoot and shoot and shoot. I always enjoyed shooting from as far away as possible, like you’re not supposed to. When I was a little guy, my form was awful. I would shoot from my shoulder because I was always trying to heave it. But I was lucky I think because my dad never said, “You’re a big man” or “You’re a back to the basket guy.” He always allowed me to be a shooter and be a perimeter player.
SLAM: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
SN: When I was little, Jordan was my hero. As I got older and realized what kind of player I was, guys like Allan Houston were who I modeled my game after. Ray Allen, when he was with the Bucks and I was in Milwaukee, he was great to watch because obviously he’s still a great shooter, and somebody that I look at as one of the greatest shooters. I would watch film in college on how he got open off of screens and how quickly he shot the ball. I always looked up to the guys who were shooters.
SLAM: With all the players in your family, what are those backyard games like at family get-togethers now?
SN: It’s great. The other day we were just hanging out in the backyard and shooting, and my older sister swears there is no doubt that she has the best 15-20 foot game in our family. My brother swears he’s still stronger than me and more athletic. And my little sister keeps telling me, “You’ll see, just wait, I’m going to be the best shooter.” It’s hard to convince anyone in my own family that I’m any good. They all tell me that they’re better than me.
SLAM: In high school, you won Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin. What did that mean to you?
SN: It was a huge honor. I think back to the state of mind that you’re in when you’re a high school kid. You’re never really sure if anyone’s going to notice you or if you’re going to get any recognition, or get a college scholarship or that kind of stuff. So at the time, that’s a huge deal, to get an honor like that from Gatorade and it was just cool because I go back there now and I see that banner hanging up. Growing up I had so many people that were believers in me. It’s cool to go back now and see the banners hanging there and it’s there for the community. You can really see that I was a product of the city of Brown Deer. And it’s cool that it’s still there.
SLAM: Then you stayed local and went to Marquette. Why?
SN: When you’re a junior or senior in high school, you don’t really know what you’re committing to. You hope you do, your parents help you. I thought I wanted to go away, I wasn’t sure, I just thought that’s what you did, you went away. In the end, I would do it over the exact same way. I was so happy to be able to have my family see me play. And I played for Tom Crean, who was the by far the best choice I could have made for me. I didn’t know how much it meant to be able to have my friends and family go see me in college. And now I come back and the community that I played college in is still home for me, so it’s really nice.
SLAM: When did you start to think the NBA was a real possibility for you?
SN: My first three years in college, I wasn’t killing. It wasn’t like “Oh, Novak’s going to the League.” But it’s something I always dreamed about. I remember sitting once, watching one of the Sunday doubleheaders, Marv Albert doing the commentating, Kobe and Shaq, were playing that day, I don’t even remember who else. But it was when I was little in my room I’d watch those games and just dreaming like, I wanted it so bad. I remember shooting in my backyard and thinking if I make this shot from, say 30 feet away, I’m going to go to the NBA. Trying to make a deal with the devil, almost. Anything to get there. You never really know, but thinking back, I think I felt it for the first time in my senior year when we beat UConn. It was the first Big East game that we played and we beat UConn, I think they were ranked No. 2 at the time. It was Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong and Marcus Williams and that whole crew. That was probably my best game in college. I had 41 points and 16 rebounds. I remember Bo Ellis saying something to me after the game. He said something like, “You earned some money tonight young fella.” When someone like Bo Ellis says something to you, you gotta think he knows what he’s talking about.