By Marcus Hartman
COLUMBUS — Before embarking on a high school career that has culminated with his selection as the Associated Press 2016 Ohio Mr. Basketball, Lima Senior point guard Xavier Simpson made a decision that surprised his father.
He wanted to give up football to concentrate on basketball, a move Quincey Simpson acknowledges he wasn’t sure was the right one.
“He used to be very, very aggressive at basketball, so I always thought he was too aggressive,” said the elder Simpson, a longtime basketball coach and the head coach at Lima Senior. “I thought the aggressiveness would be fine for football but as he got older, when he was going into the eighth grade he told me he only wanted to play basketball.
“For me I was a little disturbed by it because I felt at that time he was better in football, but I sat him down and explained if you’re going to do basketball you’re going to have to put in some work and do the small things.”
As it turns out, that was precisely why the younger Simpson decided to put away his helmet and shoulder pads for good.
“I always knew whatever you’ve got to do, you’ve got to put in that extra work, more than the average person,” Xavier Simpson said. “And with football I was just going to practice and leaving. I didn’t care. I didn’t do any type of (extra) drills or anything like that, so in basketball I always wanted to do a little more than the average person because I wanted to be great at it.”
Five years later, there is little doubt he made the right choice. Simpson has averaged 27.2 points, 6.1 assists and 3.8 steals per game for the undefeated Spartans, who will play Wilmington in a state semifinal Friday.
No matter how the weekend goes, the Simpsons already have helped turn around a program that had fallen on hard times.
“I was ballboy there since I was little, maybe since second or third grade when my dad was an assistant coach,” said Xavier Simpson, whose father is also a former Lima Senior player. “I’ve been around that atmosphere and I always imagined myself sitting on the bench when I was in high school, what kind of person would I be? Would I be all right? Would I be average? I just sat there and imagined that and now I’m just glad to see the program on the upswing again because there was kind of a drought and now I’m just glad to have an influence on those who are coming.”
The younger Simpson’s next stop will be Michigan, where he plans to major in business or communications.
He already knows comparisons to Trey Burke, the 2011 Ohio Mr. Basketball from Columbus Northland who became a star point guard for the Wolverines, are probably inevitable.
“Oh definitely,” Simpson said. “With me going to Michigan and seeing the success they had with him. What I’m hearing, from out of high school no one ever thought he would go to the NBA. And Michigan put the ball in his hand and helped him make the right decisions and get better as a player. That prepared him for the next level, so hopefully they can do that for me.”
Simpson was chosen the 2016 Ohio Mr. Basketball by a statewide media panel. He beat out finalists Jarron Cumberland of Wilmington, Seth Towns of Columbus Northland, Markell Johnson of Cleveland East Tech, Drew Rackley of New Concord John Glenn and Jon Teske of Medina.
Previous winners include Burke and fellow current NBA players Jared Sullinger of Columbus Northland (2009 and 2010) and LeBron James of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (2001-03).