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Stiff competition awaits Franklin Regional grad Novak in The Basketball Tournament

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Nick Novak puts up a shot in a game against league rival Benfica on Jan. 8, 2016.
Courtesey of Ovarense Dolce Vita
Nick Novak puts up a shot in a game against league rival Benfica on Jan. 8, 2016.

No matter the level, no matter the continent, Nick Novak is ready to run and gun on the court.

The Murrysville native led the WPIAL in scoring as a senior at Franklin Regional in 2009 and set the single-season and single-game school records for points.

At Pitt-Johnstown, Novak broke the school's assists record and became the second all-time leading scorer. Since then, he has been making shots professionally in Germany and Portugal.

Novak has the opportunity to post some lofty numbers — and not just on the stat sheet — while competing in The Basketball Tournament (TBT) in July.

Established in 2014, TBT is an annual five-on-five, single-elimination tournament that brings together teams of ex-NBA players, former college stars and top international talents for the chance to earn a winner-take-all $2 million prize that is split among the players. This year's tournament, which will air on various ESPN channels, features 64 clubs.

Novak is suiting up for the Sideline Cancer team, which is part of the Griffith Family Foundation's (GFF) Sideline Cancer Youth Initiative. If Novak's team wins the tournament, it will donate $700,000 to the Hollidaysburg-based GFF, which strives to cure pancreatic cancer through research and advocacy.

“TBT has good competition, and the idea of the tournament is so great,” Novak says. “I know the Sideline Cancer GM, Billy Clapper, because he recruited me at Pitt-Johnstown. With all of the sponsors and ESPN being involved, it lures in guys.”

Playing for the Sideline Cancer team has deeper meaning for Novak, too.

“Last season while I was playing in Portugal, I came home for Christmas and my dad delivered news that he had throat cancer,” Novak says. “Luckily, they caught it early. He has been clear for a year now. After having cancer hit that close to home, you want to do anything you can to help someone else facing those problems. If I can help raise awareness and money, I'm more than willing to do it.”

A 6-foot point guard, Novak is gearing up for the start of TBT in Philadelphia on July 8-9. He knows the competition will be fierce — particularly from an Overseas Elite team that won last year's tournament and includes former Schenley stars DeJuan Blair (a seven-year NBA veteran), and European pro standouts DeAndre Kane and D.J. Kennedy.

Not that Novak's backing down. The Sideline Cancer roster is still being assembled, but it already features graduates of Arizona State, Illinois, and St. Joseph's. While at UPJ, Novak played against soon-to-be-teammate and West Liberty grad Seger Bonifant.

“This tournament gives you a chance to play against guys that you might not otherwise face,” Novak says. “Sideline Cancer is getting a competitive team together. We're going to run and score. I'm looking to help us push the ball, be aggressive and get to the basket.”

Competing in TBT is just the latest sign Novak's star is rising. He played for SSV Lokomotive Bernau in Germany for a season before joining Ovarense, one of the top teams in Portugal's Liga Portuguesa de Basquetebol (LPB). After an admittedly trying first season there, Novak became the focal point of Ovarense's club this past year. He led the LPD in assists and ranked second in scoring while making the All-Star team.

“The decision to stay in Portugal for another year couldn't have paid off any more,” Novak says. “They gave me a bigger role, and I set myself up to continue playing against better competition in the future.”

Even while living across the Atlantic, Novak had some of the comforts of home.

“When I got to Portugal, one of the players reached out to sort of take me under his wing,” Noval said. “I told him where I'm from, and his eyes lit up. He eats, sleeps and breathes Steelers football. Every Sunday, I would go over his house and watch the game on Apple TV. When my family came to visit, we threw a big Steelers party.”

Novak is back in Steelers Country for the time being. He's running youth basketball camps at Franklin Regional and will again compete in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Tournament this summer, when he's not preoccupied by TBT.

“I look at this past season as a leapfrog year,” Novak says. “I'd like to move up to a bigger country than Portugal and continue to prove myself. TBT is a huge platform. It's competition at the highest level. After that, I'll find wherever is the best fit and keep improving my game.”

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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