What’s Next For Washington and Robert Upshaw?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2015

The news broke mid-afternoon on Monday, suddenly and succinctly:

If you had told anybody with any knowledge of Robert Upshaw’s career and his ups and downs not only at Washington, but at Fresno State previously, that such a tweet would be coming in the middle of this season, it would not exactly qualify as a shocker. But, here 19 games into a largely successful 2014-15 campaign, with Upshaw the nation’s best shot-blocker, swatting away better than 17 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts while he’s on the floor, this qualifies as a surprise. The guy we knew as a troubled and troublesome 18- and 19-year-old? That guy was gone, right? Instead, we had a talented 20-year-old who, by all accounts, was putting in the hard work and making big strides on the court, a guy who had worked his way into first round consideration for next year’s NBA Draft, a guy who had transformed the soft Huskies defense into a force to be reckoned with. And now, all that is gone, presumably like a puff of smoke.

So, let’s not worry all that much about what happened: we can all read between the lines. But, what happens next? First, let’s go to the team in a team sport: Where do Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies go from here? Well, with Jernard Jarreau sidelined following arthroscopic knee surgery and out at least until the middle of February (if not longer), that leaves the Huskies with Shawn Kemp, Jr. as the only proven frontcourt player. Junior seven-footer Gilles Dierickx has earned 13 minutes in the last six games (four points, five boards in that time) and will likely be forced into additional run. But really, this puts the Huskies behind even where they were last year at this time – basically a team with four wings surrounding a center. The good news is some combination of Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters is not a terrible batch of talent to draw from. And Kemp has been playing well. But there is absolutely no depth and no room for error.

With No Robert Upshaw To Protect The Rim, The Whole Husky Defensive Philosophy Must Change (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

With No Robert Upshaw To Protect The Rim, The Whole Husky Defensive Philosophy Must Change (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Oh, and about that whole “error” thing. There were weaknesses to Upshaw’s game, to be sure, but he really did almost singlehandedly transform the Washington defense from a below-average liability that allowed opponents to shoot a 51.8% eFG (267th in the nation) last year, to a team that allowed a mere 41.5% eFG (fifth in the nation). That’s what happens when you’re funneling opponents into the lane where the nation’s leading shotblocker awaits. Now, you’ve got to remake the whole concept upon which this team is built on the fly. Expect tempo to increase on both ends of the court as opponents are able to more easily find good shots on one end, while the Huskies guard-heavy lineup looks to make up for their lack of size by exploring the opportunity to score in transition. In order for that to work, somebody is going to have to take on a big offensive load. Williams-Goss is the most capable, but if he suddenly turns into a guy looking for his own shot, that hurts the team, since he is at his best as a distributor. Instead guys like Anderson, Dorsey and Johnson may be the guys with the biggest chance to increase their output. Johnson, for instance, had a stretch at the end of the season last year where he was terrific, notably in the Huskies Pac-12 tournament loss against Utah. But he’s yet to show that kind of punch this season. All told, however, this is a crushing turn of events for the Huskies. Even with five losses in their last eight games, this was a team that had the ability to turn the corner and linger in NCAA Tournament consideration. Now? Not so much.

As for Upshaw, he’s two strikes in and his back is against the wall. If he wanted to come back and play college ball again, you can bet that somebody somewhere would take a chance on his gamechanging ability. But, despite the big red flags surrounding his off-the-court issues, you can bet he’s done enough to make sure that some NBA somewhere will take a chance on him. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express may have put it best: despite the off-the-court issues, dude can play.

So, odds are good, we’ve seen the last of Upshaw in a college uniform. He’ll hear his name called, perhaps by Adam Silver, when the NBA Draft is conducted in June. He may have to spend some time in the D-League, but he’s a seven-footer that moves well and can change a game defensively. If he can get his head screwed on straight, many millions likely await in the remainder of his basketball career. The fact that he’s burned bridges as a young man does not necessarily mean that he’s a bad dude. He’s screwed up some, he’s a knucklehead of sorts. It happens. Hopefully he’s capable of taking this bad turn of events and learning from it on the way to a long and profitable NBA career. Because, while this makes for a seriously short and anti-climactic Pac-12 career, it was sure fun while it lasted.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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