Ann Arbor — After a brief absence, the Wolverines will be getting their leader back.
Michigan announced on Friday that senior guard Zavier Simpson has been reinstated after serving a one-game suspension and will travel with the team to New York for Saturday’s matchup against No. 25 Rutgers at Madison Square Garden.
“After speaking with (athletic director) Warde (Manuel) before today's practice and after my media availability, we agreed to lift Zavier's suspension," coach Juwan Howard said in a statement. "I am looking forward to moving on from this. Anything further will continue to be handled within."
Simpson was suspended for violating an undisclosed team policy and missed Tuesday’s game at Nebraska. He didn’t travel with the team and watched from back in Ann Arbor.
It was the first contest of Simpson’s four-year career that he missed, snapping a streak of 81 starts and 135 consecutive games played.
"This past weekend, I made some disappointing decisions which violated our team rules,” Simpson said in a statement. “I accept full responsibility and having to sit out the Nebraska game was part of that. I deserved it and fully supported Coach Howard's decision. Not being with my teammates made it a long night, however, it gave me the time to reflect.
"I know I let my coaches, teammates, and fans down as well as the athletic department and community members. More importantly, I let myself and family down. They say you learn something new, or from something, every day and this is one of those times.
"I have apologized to my team and now apologize to everyone who continues to support me as well as our program. I am grateful for the opportunity to get back on the court Saturday.”
Hours before the program announced Simpson’s reinstatement, Howard said Simpson had practiced with the team on Thursday and was following the “certain steps needed” to return.
“Great kid, amazing character,” Howard said. “Just violated team rules.”
With Simpson back in the fold, he’ll likely reassume his starting spot in the lineup against a surging Rutgers squad at The Garden, where the Wolverines have won nine straight games dating back to 2012.
Sophomore guard David DeJulius filled Simpson’s spot at Nebraska and split the point guard responsibilities with junior guard Eli Brooks in the 79-68 win. DeJulius had his ups and downs throughout the contest and finished with five points (1-for-7 shooting), three assists and one turnover in 33 minutes.
DeJulius said it was a learning experience getting acclimated to his “natural role” again and having the ball in his hands more often. He has spent most of the season playing off the ball at the two, alongside Simpson in the backcourt.
As a result, DeJulius caught himself thinking too much at times when he was running the offense and wasn’t as comfortable as he would’ve liked.
“It was a little different. It was a good different, though,” DeJulius said. “It felt good to be out there and lead the show a little bit. You might not have the best game always but when you have great teammates like myself is able to step up, it's a pretty good feeling."
While Howard said the Wolverines could’ve taken better care of the basketball and made “more simple plays” on offense against the Cornhuskers, both he and senior center Jon Teske were content with DeJulius’ outing, which helped Michigan snap a four-game skid.
"He did very good with it being his first start,” Teske said. “He told us he was a little nervous, but he did a tremendous job going in there, running the team and getting us in the right spots. Obviously, he brings a different dynamic than X does. He can come off the pick-and-roll and shoot it, get downhill. He did a good job leading us."
But just because Simpson was back in Ann Arbor, that didn’t stop him from finding a way to communicate and help his teammates against Nebraska.
According to DeJulius and Teske, Simpson FaceTimed with the team at halftime and told them what he saw on TV that they needed to do better. Simpson also was waiting for the team at Crisler Center and greeted them at the door when they arrived at 2 a.m.
"It meant a lot. He's one of our leaders so he's always going to be there for us,” Teske said. “That's just who he is — him being a leader, helping the team whenever he can and just trying to encourage us and be there for us.”
And after Friday's decision, Simpson won't have to do that from afar again.
"He's been very respectful and mature during the process, extremely patient," Howard said of Simpson. "He knows that there are team rules that you've got to abide by and he understands that clearly. That's why I say he's matured handling this situation because, yes, he's extremely disappointed by his actions. He owns his actions and that's the beauty part of it. He takes ownership of it. At the end of the day, I feel we all will learn from this process."
Michigan vs. Rutgers
Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Madison Square Garden, New York
Records: Michigan 12-8, 3-6 Big Ten; No. 25 Rutgers 16-5, 7-3
Outlook: Michigan is participating in its second B1G Super Saturday event. The event will open with a wrestling dual before changing the arena for a basketball game. The Wolverines are 24-11 all-time at Madison Square Garden. Isaiah Livers (injury) is questionable to play…Rutgers leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (37.6 percent) and is 1-5 in away and neutral-site games this season.