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Kragthorpe: Jazz’s Steve Novak, Kyle Korver a lot alike

Kurt Kragthorpe

By kurt kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published Jul 07 2014 10:32AM
Updated Jul 7, 2014 11:15PM

The comparison of Steve Novak to Kyle Korver may stem mainly from convenience or wishful thinking for most people, but there’s an almost eerie coincidence for me involving the two of them.

They are easily characterized as white forwards with shooting ability and not much else, with basically one skill enabling them to sustain long NBA careers that will include their stints with the Jazz, now that Novak is being traded from Toronto. Korver played nearly three seasons in Utah after being traded from Philadelphia in December 2007 and was a vital part of teams that won two playoff series in his three seasons — including the 2010 club that claims the franchise’s most recent victory in any playoff game.

Korver and Novak also have some remarkable shared history, when it comes to how their college basketball careers ended with me as a witness. They played for Jesuit schools that now are Big East rivals. They posted identical 3-point shooting statistics, while their teams were upset as their rallies fell short against an opponent led by an unlikely star. And their games were played under unusual circumstances, thanks to a war and a bomb scare.

Through Novak’s eight NBA seasons and Korver’s 11 years in the league, they’ve averaged about 43 percent from 3-point range. Each went 5 of 9 from beyond the arc in his last collegiate appearance as a senior in the NCAA round of 64, before becoming a second-round pick in the NBA draft.

In 2003, Korver’s No. 6-seeded Creighton team lost 79-73 to Chris Kaman’s No. 11 Central Michigan team at the Huntsman Center. Korver posted 21 points to Kaman’s 12, but somebody named Mike Manciel scored 29 for the Chippewas.

The mood in the arena was somewhat subdued, amid the start of U.S. troops’ involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the tournament games were played as scheduled around the country.

Three years later, a bomb scare in San Diego State’s arena delayed the start of the day’s first game by 70 minutes, between Novak’s No. 7 Marquette team and No. 10 Alabama.

Much as in Creighton-CMU, a relatively unknown player was the star. Alabama won 90-85 behind 31 points from Jean Felix, who made eight 3-pointers. Novak scored 17 for Marquette and freshman guard Wesley Matthews added 10. Novak took only one shot from inside the 3-point line and missed it.

My most indelible memory of that game involved a Marquette fan in the front row, right behind the press table. The guy screamed at the referees throughout the game, and I finally turned around to look at him. You may know him as the coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Jim Harbaugh, then the University of San Diego’s football coach, was supporting Marquette coach Tom Crean — his brother-in-law, who’s now Indiana’s coach.

Another coincidence (or not) is that Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey was a Houston executive in 2006, when the Rockets drafted Novak early in the second round. Novak was deep on the bench for the Houston teams that lost to the Jazz in the ’07 and ’08 playoffs.

It would be asking too much of Novak to match the 8.7 points that Korver averaged in his 180 games with the Jazz, so there’s no reason to oversell his arrival. But he can help this team. Even a cardboard cutout of the 6-foot-10 Novak, stationed at the 3-point line, would add a dimension to the Jazz’s offense for coach Quin Snyder.

Novak may have defensive liabilities and other limitations, but his role in a reserve group would include creating space for Alec Burks’ drives. Making one or two 3-pointers every game also would help, but merely being an outside threat would spread the defense.

And who knows, maybe Jim Harbaugh will show up at Golden State some night to support Novak and the Jazz.

Twitter: @tribkurt

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