For all of last season, a staple of the Juwan Howard news conference was comparing Zavier Simpson to Tom Brady. He did at the start of the season and was doing it right up until the end. He did it so much it got annoying, and then he kept doing it some more. It became easy to ignore, a way of avoiding real introspection on whatever Simpson-related topic he was getting asked about.
And maybe that belies the point.
Howard’s program in year one relied as much on the culture Simpson helped build under John Beilein as anything he himself could add to it. That’s not a knock on Howard so much as a testament to everything that had been built before him. Still, it is a fact. When Simpson was suspended for a game last year after an off-court incident, it felt like the sky was falling. That wasn’t without reason.
Asked about leadership on Wednesday, in his first time speaking with assembled media since March, the first person Howard mentioned was Simpson.
“When you have a guy like a Zavier Simpson — and I have to start with him first because his leadership is special — you’re truly gonna miss him,” Howard said.
But Simpson is gone now. Howard is in year two, with a roster full of players he recruited, not inherited. This team will be a reflection of its head coach.