Potential can be a tricky hope to bank on. Some players shine immediately; others blossom late; and those who were once an afterthought can perform well above what any high school ranking projected. In the case of Washington center Robert Upshaw, the 7-footer is looking to fulfill untapped potential. In 2012, Upshaw was a four-star prospect as one of the top prep big men in California. He had scholarship offers to attend Louisville and Georgetown as well as interest from around the Pac-12, and he even committed to play at Kansas State before re-opening his recruitment in the spring of his senior year. He ended up at Fresno State, where he was slowed by a knee injury early and then couldn’t get out of his own way during his one year there, averaging just 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.4 minutes per game over 22 contests. The program dismissed him in August 2013 after a third violation of team rules.
Upshaw transferred to Washington and sat out last season, per NCAA rules. But trouble continued to follow him, and at one point there was uncertainty where he stood with head coach Lorenzo Romar and there was significant doubt in March whether he would still be on the roster this season. By September, however, Upshaw was participating in team activities and all appears to be clear for his Huskies career to begin. Although the red flags have already accumulated, the gamble could prove to be worth the risk for Romar. This could be the type of addition that helps the Huskies emerge from what is looking like a crapshoot in the middle-to-bottom half of the league.
The number of quality big men throughout the Pac-12 this season has been well-documented. The Huskies now have the ability to pair 6’10” junior forward Jernard Jarreau and 6’9” senior Shawn Kemp Jr., alongside Upshaw, with 240 pounds and up of bulk in each of the three. In his short time at Fresno State, Upshaw showed off an ability for rim protection with 39 blocked shots. The possibilities for him at Washington look promising, and the redshirt sophomore’s presence could be the difference in fielding a formidable frontcourt, or just a frontcourt with depth. Now, Upshaw just needs to allow for his opportunity to unfold.