Remembering Michigan’s Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske

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Zavier Simpson (left) and Jon Teske on Senior Day. Photo//Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Recruited and signed into the 2016 class by former Michigan head coach John Beilein, seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske have been through it all. 

They were freshmen when the team’s plane skidded off the runway in dangerous winds attempting to takeoff for the 2017 Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. They watched as their senior captain Derrick Walton Jr. went from cutting his knee attempting to open the emergency exit door of the plane to cutting down the nets in D.C. just four days and four wins later. Walton Jr. embarked on one of the most memorable stretches in program history, earning the Big Ten Tournament MVP and carrying the Wolverines to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament, all while averaging 19.7 ppg, 7.2 apg, and 5.1 rpg over the seven game stretch. 

A year later in their sophomore year, Michigan made it to the National Championship game and set the program record for wins with 33 before losing to eventual champion Villanova. Simpson was the starting point guard on the Final Four team while Teske was trying to carve out a role behind former Wolverine standout Mo Wagner. 

It was during their junior years when it became their team. That year, Michigan started off the season 17-0 and reached as high as number two in the AP Poll before losing their first game. Despite boasting one of the best defenses in the country, offensive droughts were the pitfall that led to their exit from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 against Texas Tech.

Major questions began to emerge in the offseason concerning Beilein’s offensive fit in the modern game. Before any of those questions could be answered, Beilein left abruptly for the NBA to become the head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Soon after, The Wolverines top three scorers, Ignas Brazdeikis, Charles Matthews, and Jordan Poole entered the NBA draft. Michigan soon hired Fab Five member Juwan Howard to replace Beilein as head coach.

This season, with a new coach and a new system, Simpson and Teske navigated Michigan to a record of (19-12, Big Ten 10-10). There were highpoints (winning the Battle for Atlantis Tournament in November and reaching a number four ranking in the AP polls) and low points (Simpson’s suspension and Isaiah Livers’ injuries). We were all set to see how the chapter would end for these two with both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament ahead. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, both tournaments were canceled, ending the two seniors’ careers in a most unfulfilling way. 

Sports Editor Drew Dykowski, along with myself, want to honor the two by looking back on our favorite moments from each Wolverine.

*Note: Diehard MSU Basketball fan and fellow sports writer for the Michigan Journal, Chris Cheetam was asked to provide us with his favorite moments, but did not wish to comment. 

Favorite moment during Simpson’s career: 

Zavier Simpson performs his legendary hook-shot.
Photo//Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

Ryan- To find one singular moment from Simpson’s career was difficult for me, because his impact goes way beyond a couple highlight plays. While we have been gifted game after game with maestro displays of passing, ball handling, and finishing, it is his intangibles of leadership, intensity, and passion that make Simpson so special. He is the heart and soul of the team, the bridge between the old and the new, and yet Simpson seems to be the player most often scrutinized. Fans take to the message boards to voice their frustrations about his shot. This season, Simpson shot 36% from beyond the arc, and made timely threes when the team needed it, including a dagger a few feet behind the line to put Michigan State away. With the shot clock winding down and four minutes to play, Simpson drilled his fourth three of the contest (4-7 from three on the game, 16 points) to put Michigan up 11 points en route to a 77-68 victory over the Spartans. 

Drew- When Simpson was a freshman, I remember thinking that he was in a very difficult position since he was following two standout point guards at Michigan in Trey Burke and Derrick Walton Jr. Although I will always be a bigger fan of Burke and Walton Jr., Simpson was still able to etch out his own spot in my memory. When I look back on Simpson’s career at Michigan, I will think of three things. First, I will remember his killer hook shot. Over his four years, he perfected the shot and made it one of the most lethal in the Big Ten. Although he was inconsistent from beyond the arc, he more than made up for it with his elite hook. Inspired by Simpson, I continue to practice that shot and hope to incorporate it into my own game. Simpson was also the starting point guard on the 2017-18 Michigan Wolverines, which is the second-best Michigan team I have followed. They made it to the National Championship game before falling to Villanova and, although Moritz Wagner and Charles Matthews overshadowed him, Simpson was still a vital part of that team. Lastly, I would by lying if I said I would not remember Simpson crashing Warde Manuel’s car and then lying about his name to the police earlier this year. Although it is a low spot in his career, the video from the incident is laughable and one of the craziest I have ever seen. Whether he is referred to as Zavier Simpson or Jeff Jackson Simpson, he will go down as one of the best Michigan point guards in program history.

Favorite moment from Teske’s career:

Ryan- This one was easy for me. I am taking you back to the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Michigan was looking to capture its second tournament championship in a row, and were matched up in the finals against Purdue. The Wolverines had dropped the two previous meetings that season against the Boilers, one at home 70-69, and one in West Lafayette 92-88, in a shootout. In both meetings and for the better part of three years, Michigan struggled to match up with 7’2 300 lb behemoth center, Isaac Haas. At that time, Wolverine center Jon Teske was a sophomore coming off the bench behind former Michigan standout, Mo Wagner. Averaging 3.2 ppg in just under 13 minutes per contest, Teske broke out on the main stage with 14 points. His performance was capped off by a poster dunk over the 7 foot 2 Haas, and the man they call “Big Sleep” was awakened. Michigan would go on to win the game 75-66 and capture their second Big Ten Tournament championship in a row. 

Photo//Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Drew- Jon Teske is an interesting player. He went from an afterthought on the bench his freshman year to an impact starter his senior year. Although he looked lost on both sides of the floor at times, he always worked hard and could be counted on for a big rebound or a big low-post shot during close games. He even won Big Ten Player of the Week honors and was on the watchlist for national awards. He definitely surpassed even my wildest expectations for him during his freshman year. I will remember Teske for his emotional postgame remarks after playing in his final game at the Crisler Center, but I will remember Teske more so for the time I met him during his freshman year. It was Selfie Night at Crisler Center and I was in line to meet Derrick Walton Jr. and this unknown, 7’ 1” freshman named Jon Teske. After meeting Walton Jr, I moved on to Teske and was in awe of how tall and nice he was. I got a picture with him and showed it to my friends so they could see how big this guy was. Little did we know that he would become one of the best centers and winningest players in Michigan basketball history. 

Sports editor Drew with Jon Teske.
Photo//Drew Dykowski