On March 5, 1995 Scott Novosel woke up on Senior Day at the University of Kansas as a walk-on for the Kansas Jayhawks. By the end of the day, he would go to bed as a starter, defensive specialist, and Big 8 conference champion. Now, twenty years later, he recounts those days with his new book, “FIELDHOUSE.”
Like many kids growing up in Kansas, Scott was always a big Jayhawk fan and dreamed that one day he would wear “KANSAS” across his chest and make a positive impact both on and off the court with the team. In 1986, while following the Jayhawks run to the Final Four, Scott recalls that he would sometimes run out to the driveway hoop and take jump shots while imagining himself as Calvin Thompson, Ron Kellogg, and Danny Manning.
On most Kansas Jayhawk men’s basketball rosters, you will have anywhere from zero to three players that are from the state of Kansas, including scholarship and walk-on players. The odds of growing up as a KU fan and making the team is slim. In Scott’s case, beating the odds did not come easy.
There were two times along the way that Scott could have easily given up on his goal, but he allowed those experiences to motivate him to work for his dream of playing basketball at the University of Kansas.
Novosel’s first setback came as a sophomore at Blue Valley North when three of his classmates were selected to the JV and varsity teams, but he was not. By the end of his high school career, he became a key contributor to the Blue Valley North varsity team. As a senior, Novosel received the 1991 Most Inspirational Player award at the Dodge City Tournament of Champions. (Current Kansas Jayhawk Perry Ellis is a 2012 winner of the same award.)
During his sophomore year at KU, Novosel made a game-winning shot at Allen Fieldhouse that brought out some enthusiasm from Coach Steve Robinson, who is now an assistant coach at UNC.
The second big setback of Novosel’s career came when he tore his ACL in a JV game at Allen Fieldhouse during his sophomore year at KU.
Novosel could have decided that the combination of his poor odds to make the team plus his new injury were too great to overcome. Instead, he decided to keep dreaming and working to return from the ACL injury stronger and better than ever.
In April 1994, Novosel’s junior year at KU, Scott took the advice of senior shooting guard Rex Walters and sent a letter to Coach Williams thanking him for continuing the JV team for as long as he did and asking Coach for an opportunity to walk-on to the team.
“My plan was to look back 20 years from then and know that I did everything I could to make that team,” Novosel said.
In the following fall, Novosel was one of nearly 60 university students at the three-day tryout period for walk-ons. Scott was one of four that advanced to practice with the varsity team for two additional weeks. Novosel found out that he officially made the team when he saw his name posted on a typed piece of paper taped to the locker room door.
Scott recalls his reaction when he found his name on that paper and realized he was a Kansas Jayhawk, “I remember I ran down the hall of Allen Fieldhouse pumping my fists.”
Novosel says that his senior year as a Jayhawk was fun, partially thanks to his teammates. This was the year that funny, talented big man Greg Ostertag (now a recreational hockey player in Arizona) was a senior.
“A lot of us had different backgrounds and interests, but we have the incredible tradition of Kansas basketball that brought out a bond that proved we had so much in common,” Novosel said.
The 1994-95 Kansas team went undefeated at home, completed the Big 8 conference with an 11-3 record, and finished the season with a 25-6 record overall. Scott played in 16 of those games, contributing 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Prior to Senior Night, Scott’s highlight of the season was in a game against East Tennessee State where he recorded a steal and made his first points of the season a three pointer. The swish three pointer got a “Wow!” reaction from Dave Armstrong, who was announcing the game.
Going into Senior Night at Allen Fieldhouse, there was a lot on the line for the Jayhawks. The Oklahoma State Cowboys, led by “Big Country” Bryant Reeves and Randy Rutherford, were tied with KU with a 10-3 conference record. The winner of the game would be a #1 seed in the conference tournament and the regular season Big 8 conference champion.
So much was on the line that for days leading up to the game, Coach Williams had to consider whether to use the usual Jayhawk starting lineup (with Greg Ostertag being the lone senior) or to continue to follow Senior Day tradition and start all three Jayhawk seniors, which included the two kids who grew up playing together from Leawood, Kan., Scott Novosel and Greg Gurley. Coach Williams knew he had to do what was best for the team.
Scott remembers leading up to the start of the game he didn’t know if he would get the call to start or not and understood with the game being for the championship of the league he may not get the traditional senior start. Just shortly prior to the game, the opposing starters names were written on the dry-erase board in the locker room. Then Coach Williams would write the KU starters next to the players they would guard. The first name Coach Williams wrote was Jacque Vaughn next to Andre Owens point guard for OSU.
Then next to Randy Rutherford’s name, Coach Williams wrote NOVOSEL. In this very surreal moment, Scott recalls being surprised and sharing smiles with his teammates.
Coach Williams told Scott, “You just face-guard him and don’t worry about anyone else.”
Randy Rutherford wasn’t a walk-on for OSU or an average Big 8 player. He was a star player for the Cowboys and this is a team that would eventually make it to the Final Four.
Scott was fired up and was determined to play tenacious defense on Rutherford for the couple of minutes that Scott would be in the game.
After the starters were announced and just prior to tipoff, Novosel was getting a little wound up for the moment. Kansas sophomore Jacque Vaughn called the five starters together giving a calming vibe to Scott and his teammates.
The Jayhawks won the tip and on the first possession of the game senior Scott Novosel made a pass to senior Greg Ostertag and he made the basket to take a 2-0 lead. By the time Scott was substituted for, the Jayhawks were leading 9-2 and would go on to take the victory, 78-62.
Scott describes exiting the Allen Fieldhouse court after starting for the first time saying, “It was awesome! I knew I just had played the best basketball I had ever played for two minutes! Chris Piper [1988 National Champion with KU] was doing the broadcast that day and said that he had never seen a player so excited to come out of a game! I honestly felt like I was walking three feet above the ground. My whole life had led up to that point. I proved that I belonged! Coach Williams gave me the opportunity and I proved myself worthy.”
Scott’s moment leaving the court (and the fans reaction to it) was caught on video. The video of Scott leaving the court, however, doesn’t show the big sigh of relief that Randy Rutherford, the man he had been guarding, expressed seeing Scott get off of the court. At the time Rutherford was held scoreless and was likely cheering for Scott’s departure. Rather than finishing the game with a goose egg zero points like Big Country did, Rutherford completed the game with 45 points going 11 of 19 from the three point line.
Scott has two significant memories after the game. First, he recalls receiving the grading sheet of the game from assistant coach Joe Holladay. The grading sheet recorded a lot of the intangibles that don’t show up in the box score like taking charges, setting effective screens, getting a hand in the passing lane, etc. Coach Holladay told him to keep the grading sheet because it was the most points per minute the he had ever seen.
Novosel’s other memory came after the game, when he talked to Coach Williams and told him, “He has had better walk-ons before and will have better walk-ons after, but no one will ever be as appreciative as I am to wear KANSAS across my chest!”