There was a point during Michigan guard Zavier Simpson’s recruitment where he was strongly considering Iowa State.
It was so serious that there was a moment where he was ready to pull the trigger and become a Cyclone.
"I was really close,” Simpson told reporters on Tuesday. “I actually was going to commit, but then a little situation happened where my dad basically pulled me aside and didn't think it would be the best choice for me to commit.”
That little situation was guard Donovan Jackson, a JUCO transfer who Iowa State coach Steve Prohm recruited and brought in before Simpson made his college decision.
Looking back, Simpson said if the Cyclones hadn’t landed Jackson, he would’ve been wearing an Iowa State jersey the last three seasons.
Yet, Iowa State’s loss turned into Michigan’s gain. And heading into Wednesday’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament opener in the Bahamas, Simpson will have a chance to show Prohm and Iowa State in person what they have missed out on.
That extra bit of motivation certainly won’t hurt Simpson’s quest to stymie his counterpart in sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton, who leads the nation with 10.3 assists per game and is already a projected first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
“He's a great point guard with crazy assist numbers, so we have to come out and just play hard, play smart and make sure my team is being disciplined on the scouting report,” said Simpson, who ranks No. 3 in the nation with nine assists per game.
"Whenever you're playing a guy who wants to shoot more than pass, I feel like it's going to be a little more difficult. At the same time, he's just another basketball player. He's a great player. Obviously has great numbers and I'm excited for the challenge.”
Michigan coach Juwan Howard got an up-close look at Haliburton when he was on the USA Basketball Men’s Under-19 National Team and came away impressed. Howard’s son, Jett, took part in the team’s minicamp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, back in July.
"What I watched and witnessed throughout the summer…I was impressed with his size and his IQ, how he's able to make plays, see plays before it happens,” Howard said. “Also, he’s an underrated shooter. Kid played with a lot of poise. Overall, I think he's one of the best players in college basketball. It's great that we get to face a player like him to see where we need to measure going forward.”
Iowa State will also provide a measuring stick for Michigan’s big men. Over the first four games, the Wolverines have faced some undersized teams who didn’t have many — if any — big bodies on the roster.
That won’t be the case against the Cyclones, who feature a starting frontcourt of senior forward Michael Jacobson (6-foot-9) and junior forward Solomon Young (6-8) with sophomore big man George Conditt IV (6-10) coming off the bench. Conditt also is tied No. 4 in the nation with four blocks per game.
"They have a lot of size. Their four, five man are pretty big as is their backup center,” senior center Jon Teske said. “It'll be a good test for myself, Austin (Davis), Jaron (Faulds), Colin (Castleton) to come in and face some size we haven't seen this year yet. Especially in this tournament, we'll see a lot of size with all the good teams that are here this week. It'll be a good challenge for us to see where we're at."
And it likely won’t get any easier in a loaded tournament that includes four teams ranked in the top 13 in No. 6 North Carolina, No. 8 Gonzaga, No. 11 Oregon and No. 13 Seton Hall.
"I know we will be facing a very tough opponent in Iowa State,” Howard said. “Overall, I think this is going to be a great experience for our team to compete against some high-level competition. We know it's a very challenging, tough tournament but we're built for the competition. We're prepared for this.”
Michigan vs. Iowa State
Tip-off: Noon Wednesday, Imperial Arena, Paradise Island, Bahamas
Records: Michigan 4-0, Iowa State 3-1
Outlook: This is Michigan’s second time taking part in the three-day, three-game event. The Wolverines went 2-1 and earned a fifth-place finish in 2015…Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton leads Iowa State in scoring at 12.5 points per game…Michigan will face either Alabama or North Carolina in the next round on Thursday.