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February 25, 2013

DYNAMIC DUO | Pitt-Johnstown’s Novak, Miller provide 1-2 punch

JOHNSTOWN — High school recruiting is filled with promises and boasts, but when Nick Novak was a highly regarded guard at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville and Central Cambria’s Jordan Miller ranked among the highest-scoring players from District 6, Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball coach Bob Rukavina guaranteed the duo could make Mountain Cats history.

“I told them that if they came here, they’d end up being the highest-scoring guard tandem in our history,” Rukavina said.

Novak was considered one of the WPIAL’s premier players as his 2009 selection to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Fab Five attests and Miller originally was slated to play for Division I St. Francis, but both bought into Rukavina’s vision.

Turns out the coach was correct, and then some.

Novak, a 6-foot point guard, and Miller, a 6-0 shooting guard, lead ninth-seeded Pitt-Johnstown (14-12) into the first round of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at No. 8 Concord (16-10) Tuesday night as the highest-scoring guard combo in Mountain Cats history and holders of a variety of team records.

The good friends would happily trade in some of their gaudy statistics for a career-capping postseason run.

“The accolades are nice, but when I look back, I’ll be disappointed if we haven’t won anything,” Miller said following Pitt-Johnstown’s hard-fought 98-83 loss Thursday to third-ranked West Liberty. “You want to win and that’s why we came here.”

With Novak and Miller on the court, UPJ certainly has a chance to win every game it plays and coaches throughout the conference believe the Mountain Cats are a dangerous, high-scoring outfit.

Novak needs only 12 points to become the second player in Pitt-Johnstown men’s basketball history to score 2,000.

Justin Walther (1996-2000) scored 2,073 points.

Novak’s 535 assists and 746 goals rank first in UPJ history. Miller ranks 10th on UPJ’s all-time scoring list with 1,357 points and 322 assists while his 292 3-pointers rank first.

“It’s been great,” Novak said. “What’s really cool is our styles are completely different. For us to have these records, it’s nice. I think it all goes hand-in-hand with how we complement each other.”

Novak’s statistics place him in rare company in a conference known for offensive numbers. The WVIAC statistical archives are not complete, but if Novak reaches the 2,000-point plateau he could become the first player in conference history with 2,000 points and 500-plus assists.

“I recruited Nick Novak about as hard as any guard I’ve ever recruited,” West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. “Obviously, he made a good decision coming to Johnstown. To be honest, I’m going to hate to see him go because he’s so tough to play against.”

Of course, Pitt-Johnstown is making its final appearance in the WVIAC tournament before shifting to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference for the 2013-14 season.

Consider the PSAC coaches lucky not to have to devise defenses to slow Novak and Miller.

“There’s no question Nick is one of the greatest players in school history,” Rukavina said. “Jordan is such a great shooter. You can’t leave him open and he’s a great passer, which gets overlooked. He’s gotten Nick a lot of great shots. They’ve been great together.”

Novak and Miller, whose contributions have helped UPJ land some of the better WPIAL and District 6 players in recent years, hope it lasts more than one more game.

“I was always told to play every game like it’s your last,” said Novak, who is coming off a career-high 35 points in the regular-season finale against Seton Hill. “It’s crazy because the last one is getting closer.”

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