Andrew Novick left Portland early Friday morning for a flight south, one step and many hours ahead of Hurricane Earl. He shrugged off any foreboding or sense of deja vu.

Five years ago on a hot August day, he left New Orleans for a flight east, one step and many hours ahead of the hurricane no one will forget: Katrina.

“I’m not worried. I’ll get to where I need to go,” said Novick. “I do have an appreciation for the power of a hurricane and how it can change lives.

“A lot of us who lived through that time have that appreciation.”

He was living a dream in 2005. The skinny kid who was named a captain of the Deering High basketball team in the pre-Nik Caner-Medley era was added to the Tulane University basketball coaching staff in May 2005.

Novick got married that August. He and Sabrina had a third-floor apartment in New Orleans. After a honeymoon in Aruba, he had gone back to New Orleans. As Katrina moved through the Gulf of Mexico, he was waiting to board a flight to New Jersey for a second wedding reception that included members of her family.

He got a phone call from an associate athletic director. Novick needed to help the coaching staff contact the basketball players and tell them to get out of New Orleans. He had his last phone call minutes before his plane closed its door.

Novick didn’t know he wouldn’t return to New Orleans until sometime in October, and then only for a few days. I wrote that story for Christmas Day as the basketball team prepared to leave the Texas A&M campus to go back home.

A group of young men and older coaches started their exile as strangers. Dave Dickerson was the new head coach at Tulane. His entire staff was new. The returning players had endured a 2004-05 season of hard losses and hard feelings.

Everyone at Texas A&M opened their arms to Tulane’s displaced team, but the compassion couldn’t alleviate the uncertainty. Would Tulane reopen? Would the basketball team have a season to play? Would the entire athletic department be shut down to save money?

Did Katrina destroy their off-campus apartments? Did they still have the clothes, furniture and personal items they were forced to leave behind?

Coping with their fears, the players turned to each other and the coaching staff. They especially looked to Novick.

“When I first met him, it was like no way is he a coach,” said Chris Moore, then a junior forward from a Dallas suburb. Coincidentally, Moore prepped for a season at Maine Central Institute.

“I mean, there was no way he played (Division I) college basketball. He didn’t look like a basketball coach. But Coach Novick had this way about him. He was a quiet guy but he could get intense at times. We learned he knew his basketball. He knows talent. He sees talent.

“Out of all the coaches, we’d go to him. He told us we were going to get through this and we believed him.”

Andrew Garcia was a walk-on candidate that year. A Pittsburgh kid, he couldn’t make the basketball team at Pitt and transferred to Tulane only to walk into Katrina.

“It was the most trying experience of my life,” said Garcia, now an assistant coach at Flagler College, a Division II school in St. Augustine, Fla. “It had to be stressful for the coaches. They were just thrown into a mess without a blueprint with players they didn’t know.

“They had an unbelievable job and they did it. Especially Coach Novick. You knew he cared about us. He was my favorite coach, partly because I could identify with him. No one looked at me and saw a Division I basketball player.”

They returned to a New Orleans still coming to grips with the destruction. Garcia’s posessions were moldy and stinking. Shutters, doors and all types of debris filled what once was grassy median strips on city avenues. The few businesses that were open closed at 6 p.m.

“That was usually before our practices ended,” said Moore, who later played in Europe. “Coach Novick would go to a Subway (late in the afternoon) and come back with a box of sandwiches. Otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to eat.”

Maybe 100 fans got to Fogelman Arena that December night to watch Tulane beat Richmond by 20-some points, remembers Novick. Garcia glanced at the fans from time to time. He and his teammates gave them something else to think about other than ruined homes and shaky futures, at least for a couple of hours.

Months later, the Tulane team went into the devastated Ninth Ward to conduct clinics for boys and girls, some of whom experienced the fury of Katrina firsthand.

In 2008, with Hurricane Gustav bearing down on Louisiana, Novick took his wife, pregnant with Alexander Remy Novick, and left the city again. They finally found a hotel room in Tuscaloosa, Ala., staying with the football team.

It was an easy decision made difficult by their love for New Orleans. When city fathers asked people to stay to rebuild, Andrew and Sabrina took that to heart.

Thursday, Novick sat on a couch in his family’s business, Hub Furniture. After five seasons, Dickerson’s teams had a 68-84 record. Dickerson left Tulane at the end of March. He’s now an Ohio State assistant.

Novick, who became the recruiting coordinator, is unemployed. His flight Friday was to another job interview.

“I love the game. I love the competition. I love the relationships and the impact you can have on lives.”

Especially in the worst of times.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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