By Jeremy Schneider
LIMA – He might be only a high school junior, but Xavier Simpson seems to get it. He understands life is full of tough choices and sacrifices. He knows anything worth having is worth working for. But he knows, too, that on the other side of sacrifice and hard work are rewards.
“I sat down before my eighth grade year and wrote down all my goals,” Simpson said. “I prayed to God to help me find a great situation at a school, to start as a freshman, to win a state title.”
So far, he’s three-for-three. Simpson started as a freshman at Lima Central Catholic and won a state title as a sophomore. He’s also found two great situations at LCC and now at Lima Senior, playing for his dad, Quincey.
Playing for his dad has been a great situation for Xavier. Quincey acts as his coach, trainer, guardian and advisor. The younger Simpson is knee deep in a recruiting battle which includes some high profile universities, including the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, University of Toledo and Cleveland State University.
That type of attention can overwhelm anyone, so Quincey has limited the amount of interaction most coaches have with his son. Only when Quincey knows the coach’s intentions are good will he hand over Xavier’s phone number.
“Me and Xavier talk about expectations in college,” Quincey said. “Bigger doesn’t always mean better. You want to go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated. I have to explain everything to him because there’s going to be a time soon, within the next six or seven months where he’s going to have to decide where he wants to go play collegiate level basketball. It’s not about the name, it’s not about the conference, it’s about the right fit.”
Xavier has come a long way since writing down that list and making his prayers. Quincey remembers an experience at the Fab Frosh camp in Atlanta before Xavier’s freshman year. After the camp, the organizers name the top 20, top 40 and honorable mention list from among the 100 invited campers. Xavier was named to the honorable mention list despite feeling he deserved more.
When they stopped for gas and snacks on the way home, the two others kids on the trip – current Spartans teammates Jaylin Thomas and Rico Stafford – hopped out of the truck and went inside, but Xavier didn’t. Quincey got back in the car to find his son crying, frustrated and upset about the slight.
“There was nothing we could do but get back here and put in more time in the gym so that it wouldn’t happen again,” Quincey said.
Two years later at the John Lucas Camp in Louisville, Simpson’s game had improved so much he was called, “a man among boys.”
“Xavier is self-motivated. So many times you have to drag kids in a gym, you have to force them, you have to sell them something to make them believe they have to be in the gym,” Quincey said. “He just wants to be in the gym. There are times I don’t want to go, but he wants to go.”
It’s already becoming the type of career which could put Xavier’s name among the elite in Lima’s history, names like Travis Walton, Jamar Butler and Greg Simpson. It’s an idea which excites Simpson and let’s him know his work is paying off.
“To think I could be mentioned with those guys makes me proud,” Simpson said. “I’ve known Travis Walton and Jamar Butler for a long time. They’ve worked with me, helped make me better. Greg Simpson is my cousin; him and my dad grew up together, so I’ve known him my whole life.”
Simpson has already faced tough decisions the likes of which the other three hadn’t faced until choosing a college. When Quincey took the job at Lima Senior, all eyes turned towards what Xavier would do.
Stay at LCC? He had been in the Catholic school system for four years. He built strong relationships with students, administrators, teachers and coaches. LCC was his home.
Leave for Lima Senior? Of course he would want to play for his father, the one person who knew him and his game better than anyone else. It would also create an opportunity to play for a bigger school against bigger schools on a more noticeable stage.
In the end, Xavier became a Spartan. He calls his two years at LCC and his two-years-in-progress at Lima Senior the perfect answer to his prayer for a perfect situation.
“It was hard to leave LCC. They were my family, I have a lot of friends,” Simpson said. “Coach (Frank) Kill and I always got along great.”
Whether it’s against LCC or any other school, Simpson is the focus of opposing coaches, players and, yes, the fans. He said the funniest taunts from opposing fans have to do with the latest school to show interest in him, and the calls of “over-rated.”
But instead of breaking down Simpson, all the talk, all the ribbing, helps give him fire and motivation to get into the gym every morning at 5 a.m., to put up thousands of jump shots a week to improve the weak spot of his game, to put in the hard work which will give him the rewards.