Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 2/24/12
Despite growing up in the basketball hotbed state of Indiana, neither Stu Douglass nor Zack Novak received a scholarship offer from any Big Ten school other than Michigan. Douglass was ranked merely as a two-star prospect by Scout.com. Novak wasn't even ranked that high. But here they are, about to play in their final home game for the Wolverines Saturday night against Purdue, the heart-and-soul duo that has put Michigan basketball back on the map over the last few seasons. "I wish I could say I was this accurate at all recruiting," coach John Beilein said. Beilein has a reputation for identifying diamond-in-the-rough recruits, and Douglass and Novak are two of his best. Beilein took over the Michigan program after Tommy Amaker was fired following the 2006-07 season. In his first season, the Wolverines went 10-22 and played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 for many of their home games. High-end recruits weren't showing interest. Beilein had to settle for a couple of gym rats who were quality students and good guys. "We were just looking for two really solid kids that we could count on, that loved basketball and ran through the doors at Michigan because they wanted to play in the Big Ten," Beilein said. "They were going to be young men who really could be solid in the classroom, on the court and in every way. That's what they've proved to be." Beilein and his coaching staff deserve credit for their player-development ability, but much of this success story is about work ethic. From Beilein's perspective, that's the part in analyzing prospects that often gets overlooked in the star system of recruiting rankings. How much upside do they have because they're willing to work a little harder, a little longer than the next guy? "Their work habits have not only made them better," Beilein said of Novak and Douglass, "it's made the rest of our team better. "They've helped us create a culture here that I hope is everlasting." The Michigan program barely resembles what it was when Novak (Chesterton, Ind.) and Douglass (Carmel, Ind.) came onboard in 2008. Crisler Arena, once dark, dreary and lacking in a real college-basketball atmosphere, has come alive this season. Seven of the last eight games have been sellouts in the bright, newly renovated facility. If it's the "House that Cazzie (Russell) Built," it's also become the "Home that Zack and Stu Helped Remodel." Novak, a 6-foot-4 guardforward, and Douglass, 6-3 guard, have shown that doing things the right way still matters. Neither of these guys is a superstar. They won't be NBA draft picks. They've never even averaged in double-figure scoring. What they've done is constantly hustle and battle and do the little things that eventually make a difference over time. In the end, that mentality has helped transform the Wolverines from a long-standing underachieving program into Big Ten contenders. This was never more evident than last Saturday, when Crisler Center magically became a raucous environment that pushed the home team over the top in an upset of then-No. 6 Ohio State. Novak had to pinch himself. "It's night and day," he said, comparing the way things were when he stepped on campus to now. "It took a lot of hard work." Asked to compare the scene to what he remembers as a freshman, Douglass said, "What crowd when I got here?" While Douglass appreciates the diehard students and fans who were there from the start, he acknowledges there weren't many. "Nobody wanted to root for a team like that," Douglass said. "We had to slowly but surely build that up. That became one of the goals of mine, to push this program forward. There's a certain level of satisfaction right now for everybody around the program, especially the two under-the-radar recruits who helped make it all happen. They know there's much more work to do, but they also realize they've come a long way. Both are expected to graduate this spring. Novak, recently named a third-team academic All-American, will receive a business degree. Douglass majored in economics. They are legitimate student-athletes. Novak is best known on the court for his gutsy demeanor. He will repeatedly sacrifice his body to take a charge and dive after loose balls. That mentality spread throughout the team, including to his roommate, Douglass, who has developed into the team's top perimeter defender. Novak missed only one game during his career, way back in his freshman year. He has started 107 consecutive games. Douglass, meanwhile, has never missed a game -- 130 straight appearances, 69 as a starter. Their time is running out soon, but not before they make another NCAA Tournament appearance, something that hadn't happened at Michigan in 11 years before they arrived. This will make three bids in four years, an indication that the program in Ann Arbor is indeed back. "Youre at that time where you realize its coming to the end and you just make the most of it," Novak said. "Its been fun. I'm just trying to enjoy it." Around 8 o'clock Saturday night, Novak and Douglass will walk off the floor after a game at the Crisler Center for the final time. It's been quite a journey for two guys that most schools didn't want.
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