'Thankful for everything': Michigan's Simpson, Teske reflect on careers ahead of senior celebration

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — This is it.

For seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, Thursday’s home finale against Nebraska will mark the last time they’ll take the court and play in front of the Crisler Center crowd.

“It's going to mean a lot,” Simpson said Wednesday. “It’s definitely going to be emotional. I'm thankful for everything that I've done and thankful for the support that I have through the fans. But I’m definitely just trying to go out with some excitement.

Michigan guard Zavier Simpson, left, and center Jon Teske are getting set for their Senior Day at Crisler Center against Nebraska Thursday night.

“At the end of the day, Senior Day doesn't come often. This is my last Senior Day as a college student, so I definitely want to go out with a win. Hopefully Jon and myself can have some fun."

Simpson and Teske will be honored in a pregame ceremony at 6 p.m. along with the team’s senior managers. Both are expecting a large contingent of family to be on hand.

While it’s a milestone moment that won’t truly hit home until Thursday night, Simpson and Teske said they have already taken time to reflect on their careers and everything they’ve achieved to this point.

A national title game appearance. Three straight Sweet 16s. Back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles. Back-to-back 30-win seasons.

And that doesn’t even include the marks they’ve broken along the way.

"It's been tremendous. I’m definitely blessed,” Simpson said. “Sometimes I just sit in my room or I might just walk down the block and just thank God for the opportunity he blessed me with. When things are going so fast, it's important that you stay spiritually grounded, which is something my mom has installed in me since I was young boy.

“Every night I reflect on my journey, the things I've accomplished and things that I still can accomplish in the future.”

Earlier this season, the duo became the program’s all-time winningest players. They currently hold a career record of 107-38.

Simpson is on the cusp of breaking the program’s record for most career games played. Thursday will mark his 145th contest and will push him past former teammate Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (144).

Simpson also became the first Wolverine to post at least 200 assists in two separate seasons and is the fourth player in program history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career, joining Antoine Joubert (1984-87), Gary Grant (1985-88) and Rumeal Robinson (1988-90).

“I didn't even think anything of the matter. It was not even a clue in my mind,” Simpson said of the records. “That's what happens when you work hard and stay down till you come up I guess. Just keep working hard and hard work pays off. That's something my parents always installed inside since I was young and now is one of those times I'm seeing that hard work really does pay off."

Meanwhile, Teske is tied for fifth place in program history with 162 career blocks and became the 29th Michigan player to reach 600 career rebounds.

According to Teske, his favorite part of being a Wolverine over the past four years has been “everything about the university,” from the fans to the education to the program’s winning tradition.

"It's been a journey and I wouldn't change it for anything,” Teske said. “It feels like just yesterday we were coming in as freshmen and now we're playing our last game here. I've loved every second of it.”

In addition to all their feats, Teske and Simpson have played an instrumental role in bridging the gap from one coaching staff to another.

And even though coach Juwan Howard was only with them for one season, Howard said he’s been a “big fan” of how Simpson and Teske have represented Michigan.

"What I've witnessed from afar, they've been great,” Howard said. “Their work ethic has shown throughout their careers with how hard they work in practice, in the offseason and then during the season. Each player has gotten better and better.

“I'm just fortunate enough that in almost one season that we've developed a great relationship and they've been a joy to coach. They've been great leaders for their teammates, great examples how they've gone about their work in practice, on off days and during the season. It's beautiful.”

With their careers nearing the finish line, Teske and Simpson are looking to enjoy the moment on Thursday and make more memories before their run at Michigan comes to an end.

Simpson added he is even thinking about “doing something that Crisler will remember,” like taking a half-court shot or throwing down a dunk in the final minutes if the win has been secured.

"I'm embracing every second of it,” Simpson said. “I don't have that many games left here. I feel like I’ve left a mark and hopefully we can leave a better mark tomorrow.”

Nebraska at Michigan

Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: FS1/950

Records: Nebraska 7-22, 2-16 Big Ten; No. 25 Michigan 18-11, 9-9

Outlook: Michigan's seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony at 6 p.m...Michigan has won three straight in the series and won the first meeting this season, 79-68, on Jan. 28 at Nebraska…The Cornhuskers have lost 14 in a row, with nine of those losses coming by double digits, and are 0-10 on the road.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins