Huskies center Robert Upshaw dismissed from team
The sophomore center is dismissed by coach Lorenzo Romar for a violation of team rules.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Stanford @ Washington,8 p.m., ESPNU
The Washington men’s basketball team dismissed third-year sophomore center Robert Upshaw for violating team rules, which muddles his NBA aspirations and severely hampers the Huskies’ postseason prospects.
“We wish Rob well as he moves forward in his life, and we will do our best to support him in the future,” Romar said in a statement released by the school Monday afternoon.
ESPN reported Upshaw failed multiple drug tests at Washington.
Multiple sources close to the Huskies told The Seattle Times that Upshaw had been under a strict “last-straw” policy and subject to frequent drug tests at UW, which stemmed from a punishment last year when he was prohibited from practicing or attending games midway through the 2013-14 season.
Three weeks ago, Upshaw spoke like someone who had finally turned their life around.
“I just got tired of being talked about and not in a good way,” he said. “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.”
It’s not the first time Upshaw has been dismissed from a program. He was suspended twice at Fresno State and kicked off the team after his freshman year following a third violation of team rules.
Upshaw transferred to Washington in 2013, choosing the Huskies over Oregon and UCLA.
Romar admitted the transition wasn’t easy.
“He wasn’t recruited here for three, four years,” the UW coach said last month. “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.”
Once Upshaw returned to the team last summer, he thrived as a defensive menace off the bench.
The 7-foot big man needed just 16 games to break Washington’s season blocks record.
He moved into the starting lineup Jan. 10 when forward Jernard Jarreau suffered a knee injury and continued to excel.
Upshaw leads the nation with 4.5 blocks per game. He also leads UW with 8.2 rebounds per game and is third on the team with 10.9 points per game, shooting 59.3 percent from the field. He has six double-doubles this season.
“I spent all summer with him and I talk to him twice a week, to me he’s a good kid but he needs guidance,” said former UW standout guard Will Conroy. “He needs good people around him. ... All is not lost for Robert.
“He’s a young kid. He’s 21 years old. You see guys battle with substance abuse and it happens. The next step is the most important one for Rob. How he fixes and how he solves it going forward because the guy is an NBA basketball player. Right now some teams may be turned off, but all it takes is one,” Conroy said.
DraftExpress.com tabs Upshaw as the No. 19 overall selection in the 2015 draft while NBAdraft.net projects he’ll be taken at No. 13 in the second round (43rd overall).
Meanwhile, Washington (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12) has a big hole to fill in the middle of its defense. The Huskies are down to nine scholarship players and only eight are healthy.
Washington likely will elevate 6-7 freshman forward Donaven Dorsey to the starting lineup or move 6-4 guard Mike Anderson into the front line, where he played last season.
After starting the season 11-0, the Huskies appeared headed to their first NCAA tournament in four years. They’re 3-5 in their past eight games and in a four-way tie for sixth in the Pac-12 standings.
Following Washington’s worst defeat of the season — a 77-56 drubbing at No. 11 Utah — Upshaw spoke optimistically Sunday night about returning to practice this week.
“I feel excitement to get back in the gym this week to really work hard, to get after it and to make my teammates better so we won’t have lapses like this,” he said. “I feel like if I go in practice and I work hard and I do what I need to do, then my teammates become better and it makes the game a better game to play.”
During his 14-year tenure with the Huskies, Romar had never kicked a player off the team during the middle of the season until now.
“Knowing Coach Ro, I know Coach is a man of his word,” Conroy said. “If Coach told you this is going to be the last time that you have to mess up, it will be the last time that you have. He treats everybody equal. It could be our best player or it could be a guy who doesn’t play any minutes.
“I’m not one to say Robert wasn’t dealt a fair shake here because Coach is going to give you a fair shake.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.