UW basketball’s Robert Upshaw matures, becomes shot-blocking force
It’s still not perfectly clear what Robert Upshaw did last season to land in Lorenzo Romar’s doghouse or how the enigmatic newcomer regained the trust and confidence of the Washington men’s basketball coach. But it has happened, to near-record results.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It’s still not perfectly clear what Robert Upshaw did last season to land in Lorenzo Romar’s doghouse or how the enigmatic newcomer regained the trust and confidence of the Washington men’s basketball coach.
Neither man offers much in terms of specifics on the subject.
However, we know what prompted Upshaw’s turnaround: He got tired of being ridiculed.
“I just got tired of being talked about and not in good way,” he said last week. “I got tired of being average. I got tired of being somebody’s joke. Everybody come into the room and it’s ‘Ha-ha. He did this today.’ But it wasn’t anything about basketball.
“Now when you walk into a room and you talk about Robert Upshaw it’s ‘This kid is the top sixth man in the country or the best shot blocker in the country.’ That’s what I like to hear. That’s what I want to be a part of. I’m tired of being average. I put my average ways behind me and now I’m striving to be great.”
If by great he means historic, then Upshaw has nearly accomplished his goal because he’s on the brink of rewriting the UW record books.
The next time the 7-foot, 250-pound redshirt sophomore blocks a shot, he’ll move into a first-place tie atop the school’s season blocks list. Considering 15 games remain in the regular season, Upshaw will likely obliterate the UW record of 67 set by Chris Welp during the 1985-86 season and equaled by David Dixon in 2001-02.
Upshaw leads the nation in total blocks and blocks per game (4.4). His 4.4 blocks average is better than 259 of the 351 Division I schools.
If Upshaw were a Pac-12 team, he’d rank fifth in the conference in blocks per game and tied for seventh in overall blocks.
“The things he does, you can’t teach,” former UCLA great Don MacLean said referring to Upshaw’s 7-5½ wingspan.
Despite his considerable defensive prowess and four double-double performances in the past seven games, Upshaw has come off the bench in every game despite averaging 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Considering Washington’s four-game losing streak and 0-3 Pac-12 start, Upshaw could make his first start Thursday when the Huskies (11-4) face Oregon State (11-4, 2-1) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Whether I start or not, that doesn’t matter,” Upshaw said last week. “Really it doesn’t. I don’t know if I would have said that in the past, but I feel great with this team.”
It wasn’t always that way.
At this time last year, Upshaw got sideways with Romar, which was the second time in a year that he’d alienated his coach. It happened at Fresno State, where coach Rodney Terry suspended Upshaw twice as a freshman for violation of team rules.
The Bulldogs dismissed him after the season. He averaged 5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 22 games at Fresno State.
“Personally, I never wanted Rob to stay in Fresno,” said his mother, Ceylon Sherman. “Me and (his stepfather, Benny Bowie) were very against him going to school in Fresno. We just felt he needed to get away and grow up a bit.”
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. 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 when Wildcats coach Frank Martin left and took the job at South Carolina, Upshaw no longer wanted to go to KSU. So he stayed home and landed at Fresno State and went against the wishes of his mother.
“He’s a good kid, but he just made some bad decisions,” said Sherman, who works as a social worker in Fresno. “He was just a kid being a kid. What college freshmen do. He was having problems following the rules. It was just best that Rob departed from Fresno State.”
Upshaw, the youngest of Sherman’s four children, chose Washington over Oregon and UCLA, but the transition wasn’t smooth.
“He wasn’t recruited here for three, four years,” Romar said. “He didn’t really have a lot invested in the University of Washington. He couldn’t play. He had to redshirt, so he wasn’t here. So that made it a little difficult for him to embrace everything that was going on.”
Midway through his first year at Washington, Upshaw was prohibited from attending games or practices. Romar said the 21-year-old center needed time to focus on off-the-court issues.
“It wasn’t anything criminal or anything like that,” Sherman said. “It was some tough love. Either you want it or you don’t. It’s up to you. It’s always been up to Rob. I think him and Romar had a good understanding as to what Rob needed to do to get back on track. Romar to me was the best fit for Rob off the court. Being a mentor, his experience and just the person that he is, I think Rob needed that consistency.”
After about 4-5 months away from the team, Upshaw rejoined the Huskies in the spring. He committed to the team’s offseason workouts. Romar no longer had concerns about his character, but his conditioning was an issue and his minutes were limited.
Still, Upshaw was a force from the start.
He blocked seven shots in each of his first two outings. In his fourth game with the Huskies, Upshaw set UW’s single-game record with eight blocks against San Jose State.
“I’m a completely different person,” Upshaw said. “I’ve matured. I’ve become a lot more coachable. I have the trust of my teammates and my coaches to do the right things. I’m just a completely different player. I put in all of my work over the summer to become the best player I need to be and I feel like I’m doing my thing right now.”
DraftExpress.com tabs Upshaw as the No. 19 overall pick in the 2015 draft while NBAdraft.net projects he’ll be taken at No. 18 in the second round (48th overall) by the Utah Jazz, one spot below UW’s Nigel Williams-Goss.
An informal poll of eight NBA scouts gathered last week at the UW-California game suggests Upshaw isn’t likely to return to Washington next season. Four scouts said he’s likely to be drafted if he decides to leave school early, two weren’t sure and two declined to answer.
“The sky is the limit,” Sherman said. “Right now, anything is possible. If it’s God’s will, it’s going to be his last year at Washington.”
|Shot block king|
Washington sophomore center Robert Upshaw is poised to become the most prolific single-season shot blocker in Husky history.
|David Dixon, 2001-02||29||67|
|Chris Welp, 1985-86||31||67|
|Robert Upshaw, 2014-15||15||66|