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October 16, 2009

Michigan Madness kicks off basketball season

Michigan's first basketball event of the season wasn't an hour old before we got our first surprise. Junior wing Manny Harris and sophomore guard/forward Zack Novak won the dunk contest and the three-point shooting contest -- but not in that order.

Harris teamed with Carmen Reynolds to make 11 triples in a minute to capture the men's/women's combined around the world three-point contest, but Novak brought the house down with a pass-to-himself, between-the-legs windmill to capture the slam dunk contest hands down, beating guards Laval Lucas-Perry and Darius Morris (along with a cameo from senior forward DeShawn Sims).

"Never in a million years would I have expected that," head coach John Beilein marveled as his players mobbed Novak.

Novak's first effort was almost as good, a windmill off the bounce. He called himself "the darkhorse" afterward, noting people still remembered him for his missed dunk at the end of regulation against Savannah State last year, and he entered the contest with something to prove.

"I knew everyone still didn't believe me," Novak said with a smile. "I remember everyone asking, 'what were you thinking?' And I said I swear, I can dunk. I promise. That definitely was still in the back of my mind. That's almost the reason I didn't try it, because a lot of times when I practice it I don't get high enough, and it looks bad if you miss that. But after I got the first one down, felt like I'd surprised people enough that I might as well try it."

Approximately 3,500 people showed up for the event featuring both Kevin Borseth's women's team and Beilein's men. The coaches were introduced to music, dancing through the lines of players, with assistant John Mahoney the most impressive of the shakers and movers.

Players signed autographs betweens events ranging from a Greek shootout to a skills competition before running a short scrimmage of two, four-minute halves. Novak (maize team) and Vogrich (victorious blue team) both hit two triples apiece in the scrimmage, while Harris scored 12 or 14 taking the ball to the hole and hitting a few jumpers. He scored six of the first eight in the first stanza, including a strong, lefty finish through traffic and two jumpers before the blue exploded for 20 over the next four minutes.

"It was great just to play with everybody, shoot in Crisler with the thing set up," said Vogrich, who was pure on both of his triples in the scrimmage."It's exciting, gives you a little preview for the season. Coach said don't take charges or play much defense, don't get hurt. Have fun."

Some notes:

• Big man Ben Cronin ran the floor quite well and had a triple and a nice back to the basket post move with a righty, half-hook finish in finishing with five points during the scrimmage.

"During our practices I'm moving real well, and Coach Beilein even said this is the fastest and quickest he's seen me running since I've been here," said Cronin.

• If there were an odds on favorite for the point guard position today, it would probably be redshirt sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry. Lucas-Perry has dropped 15 points and showed great burst and acceleration in taking it to the basket a few times.

"When you lose about 15 pounds, it's taking a lot off you," he said. "You jump higher, you're quicker, your whole game gets elevated because you're doing extra work, cardio. That's what Coach Beilein and Sanderson had me do over the summer just to help this team .

"I'm probably the biggest eater on the team. I love to eat, but there's a time you've got to put food aside and work ethic ahead."

• True freshman guard Darius Morris seemed content to let his teammates do the scoring, but he set up a number of good looks for his teammates.

"They knocked down the shots. The whole team, the whole night was a good night for the whole team," he said.

Morris is getting used to all facets of college life in the Midwest.

"The people are great. I feel like it's a family, just a family away from my original home, and the only thing is the weather," he said of the unseasonably cool temperatures. "I can't lie … they just keep telling me it gets worse. I just try to layer up."



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