Incoming Wolverine Simpson taken by UM's fighting spirit

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Xavier Simpson

Lima, Ohio — While Michigan was getting set to start its postseason Wednesday night, a kid an hour north of Dayton was gearing up for a championship run of his own.

Xavier Simpson, a 5-foot-11 guard from Lima Senior High, was practicing Wednesday afternoon for his team's semifinal game Friday night.

It's been a special season for Lima Senior, which is 28-0, and for Simpson, who scored 59 points in a game earlier this season to set a state record, then broke his own record later in the season with a 65-point effort.

The season became a little more special Wednesday afternoon when he was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball.

So Simpson, who's coming to Ann Arbor in July and will be a freshman on the basketball team in the fall, hasn't been able to watch every Michigan game.

But the self-described Big Ten Network junkie has watched the big games lately, including the end of the win over Indiana while in school, and is thrilled with the run Michigan made in Indy to get to the NCAA Tournament, and Wednesday night's game against Tulsa at University of Dayton Arena.

"When I've got some free time, I'm always going to watch them," Simpson said before practice Wednesday. "They have a nice team, a really good team. Just the coaching staff, the way (John) Beilein handles things, the way they keep fighting.

"They were going through a drought where they may not have made the Tournament.

"But for them to keep on playing and beat Indiana on the buzzer-beater, that shows and means a lot. They kept fighting throughout the whole season, through all the ups and downs.

"They obviously needed to stick together as a team. That's what impresses me most."

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Beilein has said this season's team might've been a year ahead of schedule, making the NCAA Tournament despite losing seniors Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht to injuries.

Next season figures to be the start of something bigger, with Michigan returning everybody who played down the stretch this season, plus bringing in a pretty highly regarded freshman class.

Simpson leads a four-man class that also includes Simpson's AAU pal, Ibi Watson of Pickerington, Ohio; Jon Teske of Medina, Ohio; and big man Austin Davis of Onsted, Michigan.

Simpson plays the point, but is OK learning from Derrick Walton Jr. next season.

"I'm very excited," Simpson said. "Beilein said this is the start of something.

"I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Lima Senior, which remained undefeated thanks in large part to Simpson's buzzer-beater against rival — and Simpson's former high school — Lima Central Catholic, plays Wilmington (27-1) at 8:30 Friday in Columbus, Ohio. The winner advances to meet either Westerville South (24-4) or Garfield Heights (23-4) in Saturday's championship game on the campus of Ohio State.

Lima Senior is the highest-ranked team remaining, at No. 2.