Robert Upshaw is a former consensus top 50 recruit, a potential first-round pick in next June’s NBA draft and a rim protector so gifted that he leads the nation in blocks despite coming off the bench almost every game he played this season.
What does it say about his off-court issues then that a 7-footer so talented has been unable to stick at either school he has played for?
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar announced Monday that he has dismissed Upshaw from the program for an unspecified violation of team rules. Fresno State previously booted Upshaw after his freshman season in 2013 when coach Rodney Terry grew tired of suspending the promising center and decided keeping him on the team was more trouble than it was worth.
“We wish Rob well as he moves forward in his life,” Romar said Monday in a statement “We will do our best to support him in the future.”
Washington’s decision to cut ties with Upshaw could easily condemn the Huskies to missing the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season. Though Washington is 14-5 overall and boasts solid non-league wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma, the Huskies will have a hard time replacing a defensive anchor who parked himself in the middle of their two-three zone defense and averaged 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game.
Upshaw’s ability to defend the rim and run the floor may still get him selected in next June’s draft, but his off-court problems certainly jeopardize his chances of an NBA team plunking down guaranteed money to take him in the first round.
Drug use was one of the issues that led to his dismissal at Fresno State. He spent part of the summer after his freshman year at the Houston-based treatment program of John Lucas, a former NBA star whose career was derailed by substance abuse and who has gained national acclaim for helping rehabilitate athletes whose lives have careened off track.
Washington assistant T.J. Otzelberger visited with Upshaw and the big man’s family, friends and former coaches in hopes of assessing what went wrong at Fresno State and whether the off-court issues were likely to resurface. Upshaw convinced Otzelberger he was ready to make the necessary changes in his life, but he didn’t meet the coaching staff’s expectations during his redshirt season, leading to Romar prohibiting him from attending practice or sitting on the bench during games for the second half of last season.
There were times Upshaw wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance to play for Washington, but he gradually won over the coaching staff by attending class, persevering through extra workouts and getting into the best shape of his life. He told Yahoo Sports last month that he had matured and his issues were behind him.
“I made some bad choices,” Upshaw said. “What happened is done and I can’t change that, but I learned from it. I’m not doing it now. I’m definitely not doing it now. I’m in a better stage of my life. Basically, I just had to grow up.”
Turns out Upshaw may not have matured as much as he claimed, a sad development for a kid with so much natural ability.
A blossoming NBA prospect who seemed to be putting his self-destructive past behind him is now once again facing an uncertain future.
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