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The Curious Case of Robert Upshaw

Will Robert Upshaw hear his name called on Thursday at the NBA Draft?

Can Upshaw put his past behind and make it in the NBA?
Can Upshaw put his past behind and make it in the NBA?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Among the many prospective basketball players looking to be drafted on Thursday is former UW center Robert Upshaw.  Kicked off the team in January, Upshaw’s absence started a spiral for Coach Romar’s team.  Having refocused himself for the draft, Upshaw is looking for another chance, this time in the NBA.  The question will be whether or not an NBA team will take a chance on him.

Even before Upshaw’s tumultuous time at Montlake, he has had noted off the court issues.  Part of the problem had been an issue with marijuana.  Although the Huskies did not comment on the reasons for Upshaw’s departure earlier this year, many speculated that it was due to a drug-related issue.  The information of his drug dependency came to light, although not directly mentioned, in lead-up to the NBA Draft as NBA teams investigate all prospects and certainly Upshaw’s problems came up.

In an interview with KJR’s Mitch Levy, Upshaw talked about moving to San Diego after leaving the team to focus on himself and not basketball which one might assume was going to a rehabilitation center.

When you think of Upshaw’s game, it’s the 7-5 wingspan that allows for his shot-blocking and shot-altering presence in the lane that should have teams willing to take the risk on him.  He was one of the key factors for the Huskies getting out to a 14-5 record last season.  He led the nation in blocked shots with an impressive 4.5 a game, averaged 10.9 points and 8.2 rebounds, he also nearly 60 percent from the field while with the Dawgs.

After his departure the Huskies went on a 6 game losing streak and ended the season 2-10 without him.  A glaring stat brought up by Jonathan Givony of was that with Upshaw on the floor for the Huskies, opposing teams shot 38.5% from 2-point range.  Without Upshaw on the floor, teams shot 49.7%.

Without Upshaw in the middle, the Huskies were left with Gilles Dierickx and Shawn Kemp, Jr.  Neither one could match the presence, especially the shot-blocking and rebounding of Upshaw.  Moreover, Upshaw was developing a low-post game which could have opened up things for Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews on the outside.  But, Husky fans did not get the opportunity to see a full season of what could have been.

There are several centers that grade out ahead of Upshaw.  In fact, the projected number 1 pick is Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky followed by Jahill Okafor of Duke.  Another Wildcat, Willie Cauley-Stein is another 7-0 footer also projected to be a lottery pick.

Upshaw still has the measurable that should make him a desirable player for any team looking to beef up their defense.  According to many pundits a host of NBA teams are in need of a "rim protector" and interior defense.  Boston, Denver, Detroit, the Clippers, Bucks, Knicks, Magic, Blazers and even the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors are in need of someone like Upshaw to address its needs.

There are differing murmurs about Upshaw’s draft status.  NBA insider David Aldridge reports that he’s been "red flagged" by three teams due to off-court behavior.  But, Aldridge adds that he has been working with a therapist and told team he has not smoked weed in two months.  He was counseled by Bill Walton of all people about playing in the NBA.  Notably, Walton openly talked about Upshaw’s marijuana use after his dismissal during Pac-12 games despite that detail not being made official.  Aldridge lists Upshaw as a projected second round prospect.

At the NBA draft combine, doctors discovered a heart issue which led him to suspend draft workouts with teams.  He’s since been cleared of any health issues and returned to gearing up for the draft.  Some believe that he cannot be taken in the first round since it would mean a guaranteed contract and could mean a sunk cost if Upshaw were to relapse. He could prosper as a second round pick.  In fact, if he plays to his potential he could be a "steal" and secure himself financially for the rest of his life.  Then again, if he goes undrafted, he has a great shot at playing in the NBA’s Summer League and catching on with a team that may shuttle him to the NBDL for a call-up later.  While the D-League may not be the ideal start to a professional basketball career, it worked out for Justin Holiday.

Upshaw’s agent is Bill Duffy who has represented some notable  NBA players including Yao Ming.  Duffy should help Upshaw find a safe landing with a team somewhere even if his name is not called on Thursday.

Even though Upshaw’s stay at Montlake was short-lived, he made an impression with NBA scouts.  The affable Lorenzo Romar wished him well despite making the tough decision to let him go.  In his interview with Mitch in the Morning, he indicated that he would always be a Husky.  Perhaps this was meant to appease Husky listeners that were disappointed in him and his coming clean with his issues is a bigger part of Duffy’s strategy to put NBA execs at ease.

We shall see if he can exorcise his demons and make it in the league.