When Washington landed Robert Upshaw last year, the 6-11, 255-pound center immediately improved the outlook for the Huskies even if he had to sit out the 2013-14 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Despite posting pedestrian statistics – 5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 22 games during his one season (2012-13) at Fresno State – the sophomore big man with three years of eligibility was heralded as a prized addition because of his rare mix of height, athleticism and a 7-4 wingspan.
“There are not many post guys out there like him in college basketball,” coach Lorenzo Romar said after Upshaw signed scholarship papers September 2013. “We’re anxious to begin working with him to help him reach his overall potential.”
Upshaw made an immediate impact in practice. After an Oct. 30 workout, we wrote: “With Upshaw, everything is a dunk. And not your garden-variety slam. He flushes with ferocity. He punches the basketball through the rim with anger and no concern for anyone who may be in his path. It got to a point in practice where UW coaches told Upshaw to work on layups rather than dunking the ball every time.
Defensively, Upshaw displayed terrific awareness and shot-blocking instincts. On one play, it appeared as if a post player wiggled free inside for a layup before Upshaw swooped in from behind and swatted the ball out of bounds. That block was better than any of his dunks and it produced a chorus of laughter from players while courtside observers watched slack-jawed.”
During the season Upshaw got sidetracked.
He missed a game or two. He returned to the bench. And then, he was a no-show at games during the final weeks of the season.
At the time Romar said Upshaw needed to focus on academics. Later, the narrative changed slightly and it was believed Upshaw needed time to attend to personal matters.
Upshaw didn’t practice late in the season. However, Romar maintained he was still a member of the team.
After Washington’s 67-61 loss to Utah in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament last Wednesday, Romar was uncertain about Upshaw’s future with the Huskies.
When asked what he’s expecting from the Upshaw, Romar said: “Not sure. That’s probably right now the last thing that I’m concerned with.”
When asked if he was disappointed in the situation, Romar said: “We’ll see.”
A couple of folks close to the team indicated they’d be surprised if Upshaw remains with Washington next season. If he doesn’t return, it would literally be a big loss for the Huskies who at one time were ready to make him the centerpiece of the team.
Paired with point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who made the Pac-12’s all-freshman team, UW looks as if it has a potentially lethal guard-center combination. Upshaw is expected to upgrade a marginal front line that lost senior Perris Blackwell, who started 25 games in the low post. Upshaw and the return of 6-10 forward Jernard Jarreau gives UW two shot blockers inside and should significantly improve a leaky defense that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in points allowed (74.7 ppg).
It’s conceivable to believe Washington can rebound from a disappointing 17-15 record and finish in the upper half of the conference next season with Upshaw.
Still, it was always a risky proposition for the Huskies to pin their hopes on Upshaw, who was dismissed from Fresno State after repeated violations of team rules.
Upshaw graduated from Fresno’s San Joaquin Memorial, the same school that produced former UW star Quincy Pondexter. As a senior, Upshaw averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks per game and was named the co-Player of the Year in the County/Metro Athletic Conference.
He was rated as the No. 4 prospect in the state of California and the 55th overall player in the nation in ESPN’s top 100 list in 2012. Upshaw originally committed to Kansas State, but backed out of the verbal agreement during the spring of his senior year in high school.
After leaving Fresno State, Upshaw visited Washington and Oregon before picking the Huskies.
“I went through a tough period at Fresno State,” Upshaw said told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “I had some maturity problems and didn’t focus on what was in front of me. It all made me realize that I need to focus on what’s important. I love the game.”