Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein says you’d laugh at how many times his freshman point guard Xavier Simpson begs to play.
The Lima, Ohio native came to Ann Arbor as the No. 48 recruit in the country, but has struggled to adapt to the pace of play in the NCAA.
Still, these transitional difficulties haven’t stopped him from wanting to play in big moments.
“He has the attitude of a winner,” Beilein said. “He wants to be good, he wants his team to be good. He has a lot of energy on the bench. He’s trying to get ready and little by little, that’s our hope.”
And as the Big Ten season progressed, Simpson has gotten his chance.
In two of Michigan’s five conference games, Walton has picked up two fouls in the first half, forcing Beilein to give extended minutes to his first-year point guard.
While the newfound playing time may not have paid off as much as Beilein hoped, he has noticed the progression of Simpson’s play and most importantly, his confidence. That much was evident in the players-only meeting that was called by senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. the night before the Wolverines’ game against Nebraska last Saturday.
“Actually, shockingly, we had our freshman, Xavier, step up and speak,” Walton said. “I think that’s great.”
Realistically, situations like Saturday night’s are expected. Coming out of high school as a pass-first point guard and Ohio Mr. Basketball, one of Simpson’s best traits on his scouting report was his leadership ability. The same scouting report, though, described Simpson as just a “good” shooter.
“Most point guards are going to be pass-first guys,” Beilein said. “They can shoot and they can score, but they’re looking to set up others. So that’s his mindset right now — ‘How can I make others better around me,’ and ‘How can I go down and give Derrick a rest and play great defense while I’m at it?’
But Beilein wants Simpson to bring more to the table than just passing.
While Simpson may not be ready to play 30 to 40 minutes a night, Beilein understands his role on the team.
“It’s hard to ever expect anything from a freshman,” Beilein said. “I never really expect it, being a freshman and come in and (play) like a Trey Burke. That’s so rare that they just come in, and they’re game ready at this level.”
As Beilein stated, Burke was an outlier. He came to Michigan with a level of talent and “swagger” that allowed him to claim the 2011-12 Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year award, which hadn’t been won by a Michigan player in nine years.
For most, though, the path to conference awards is an arduous one, and Beilein also understands that developing a point guard like Walton over a four-year period takes time.
“We’re trying to develop him as quickly as we can,” Beilein said. “But it’s not easy for a freshman. He’s making developments everyday, and he knows and I know that he has a long way to go. He works his tail off, and that’s all we can ask for.”
While Simpson may not be a point guard of Trey Burke’s caliber just yet, Beilein put it best when he said Simpson’s job at the moment is to fill in for Walton while also playing good defense.
And so far, he’s doing a good job of it.