Michigan basketball captains Zack Novak, Stu Douglass ready to reunite with Ohio friend
Shortly after finding out who he'd be playing this week, Michigan basketball senior co-captain Zack Novak gave a congratulatory call to his friend and former AAU teammate, Ohio junior guard Walter Offutt.
And within minutes of that conversation, the transition from friend to competitor officially began.
"We talked for a little bit, he asked 'What'd your coach say?' " recalled Novak, whose No. 4 Wolverines will face No. 13 Ohio on Friday (7:20 p.m., TNT) during the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Nashville, Tenn. "I was like 'I'm not going to tell you. Walt.'
"Knowing me and knowing him, we'll have a quick hello before the game, but afterward we'll sit and talk."
Offutt, part of several Wolverine-Bobcat connections this week, is Ohio's second-leading scorer this season at 11.7 points per game.
Novak befriended Offutt on the AAU circuit in Indiana when both played for the Indiana Elite club.
Offutt turned into a four-star prospect out of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, eventually signing to play at Ohio State. Novak, meanwhile, was an unheralded recruit from small-town Chesterton High School who ended up at Michigan, setting up several possible meetings between the two down the road.
Things didn't quite work out that way. An early knee surgery eventually turned into Offutt transferring away from Ohio State and out of the Big Ten in 2009.
As fate would have it, the Indiana pals will cross paths again, this time on college basketball's biggest stage.
"We were really good friends in AAU," Novak said. "We'd heard about each other growing up in Indiana quite a bit, but never really met. Finally, our sophomore year in high school we finally got to play together.
"We're pretty good friends."
Novak isn't Offutt's only Michigan friend. Co-captain Stu Douglass -- also an Indiana native and former Indiana Elite prospect -- also has a history with the Bobcat guard.
More than just AAU history, though. They also played in the same high school conference and spent time opposite each other in middle school, prompting Douglass to say Offutt was "the best eighth-grader I'd ever seen."
Douglass said he's also been in contact with Offutt this week, and added he's glad he and Novak get a chance to play him one more time.
"I was wondering if I was ever going to play him again after he left Ohio State," Douglass said. "Somehow this all ended up this way.
"It's going to be a lot of fun."