On Saturday afternoon, the Michigan men’s basketball team will stake its claim to be the nation’s top-ranked team for the first time in half a decade.

If it does, Zavier Simpson will have helped the Wolverines defeat the school he almost attended.

It seems impossible to imagine now — with Michigan’s and Simpson’s identities inextricably intertwined — but four years ago, the pair had barely crossed each other’s radars. The Wolverines’ recruiting efforts were centered around now-Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston and, as a result, Simpson had yet to even consider Michigan.

Instead, the junior point guard seemed destined for Wisconsin. Now, four years later, neither Quincey Simpson — Zavier’s father and AAU coach — nor Lamont Paris, the assistant coach who nearly recruited him to Madison, can recall which major conference school was the first to enter Simpson’s recruitment.

The consensus? It wasn’t Michigan.

It may have been Wisconsin, but Quincey also remembers Illinois and Northwestern heavily pursuing his son at the time. The Badgers, though, were the most comfortable option for the Simpsons. Paris and Quincey grew up just 30 minutes apart — Quincey in Lima, Ohio, where he raised Zavier, and Paris in Findlay, just 35 miles up the road. They got to know each other in the early 90s, facing each other in high school basketball, and have maintained a relationship ever since.

So when Paris began recruiting Zavier, it was a natural fit for both.

“It was an easy conversation,” Quincey told The Daily. “Because, like I said, he’s from Findlay and we’ve known each other. So it was really comfortable talking to him. But I do remember when that process started. They just reached out to me and we just kind of built a relationship and we built a rapport.”

“I first knew (Quincey) and then I saw Zavier was coming up and was a good player,” Paris, now the head coach at Chattanooga, added. “And I knew where he had been recruited and what kinds of schools were recruiting him. It probably was, originally, not at the Big Ten level, which, we didn’t care that much about. I just knew he was a good kid and a good solid player and a good leader.”

Quincey, though, knew not to magnify the importance of previous relationships, or which school offered when. A former Division II player himself, he instead advised Zavier to concern himself with fit and development — two boxes which Wisconsin ticked just as well.

“It was intriguing because Wisconsin has been known for the way that they develop players,” Quincey said. “And so, seeing some of the guards that they have had in the program, we were really happy that they were keying on my son’s recruiting.”

Then, the summer after Simpson’s junior year of high school, everything abruptly changed. A friend of Quincey’s was a scout and told him that both Michigan and Michigan State were heavily pursuing Cassius Winston. Whoever didn’t get Winston, he explained, would be left without a point guard.

Quincey knew the Spartans coaching staff through an old AAU player of his, but had no previous relationship with Wolverines coach John Beilein or his staff. Still, he reached out to then-assistant Bacari Alexander to gauge Michigan’s interest. Soon, both Alexander and Beilein began showing up to Simpson’s AAU games. Beilein, though, acknowledged that his interest in Simpson was dependent on Winston’s decision.

“He just said, ‘Hey, if I ever get the sense that I may not get (Winston), then I’m gonna go in hard with (Zavier).’ And we understood that,” Quincey said. “Most kids probably would take that as a diss, we took that as being honest, and we respected that.”

But soon after the Wolverines started pursuing Simpson, it became clear that Winston was destined for East Lansing. So only one week after using one of their five official visits with Wisconsin that September, Quincey and Zavier hit the road for what would become the first of countless drives up I-75 to Ann Arbor.

It took less than half the visit for Quincey to be sold on Michigan, but he didn’t want to force a decision on Zavier. A few hours later, on the drive home, he found out he didn’t have to. Zavier was ready to commit.

“We always kept a pros and cons list for every school,” Quincey said. “And there were absolutely no cons when we visited Michigan. Every box was checked, so there was nothing else to wait around for.”

Within days, Simpson’s commitment was official, stunning the Badgers — and every other school that had pursued him.

“I hadn’t heard Michigan that much,” Paris said. “I had heard a couple other schools, but I had not heard Michigan so that was kind of out of nowhere.”

Then, Paris paused and took a moment to reflect on Simpson’s recruitment process — something he hasn’t done in years. 

“Anyway, it works out how it’s supposed to work out.”

Three years on, the Wolverines can have no disagreements.

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