Had a chance to speak for a bit with third-year Huskies assistant coach Brad Jackson last week for our story yesterday on 7-foot center Robert Upshaw. Here's that interview, which should give some insight into the kind of player the Huskies think Upshaw can be.
(Have you ever been around a shot-blocker like Robert Upshaw?) “Not personally, but just watching players through the years, I think kind of in my era, a couple guys that come to mind would be (Bill) Walton and (Kareem Abdul) Jabbar. That’s, for me, the closest comparison. Playing against Walton you get a sense of that. But I think it’s a real gift. His timing … a lot of guys can block shots, but one of the things that (Upshaw) does so well is he is able to block shots and retain possession of them, and that’s pretty unique. You look back through the years in basketball, whatever level, there’s guys that swat them into the seats. But that ability to block the shot, to obtain possession, but then also the threat of a blocked shot, that’s been huge for us this year.”
(Did he already have that ability when you got him?) “I think so. I’m not sure it’s taught. Maybe little things where just spacing or just awareness, but as he plays more .. because Rob hasn’t played a lot. But I think part of it has to do with his length of arms. He’s got very long arms and obviously he’s got great size. But so much of it is just his innate understanding of when to go after the ball and then also, he’s really, really good at coming with the high hand and a lot of times he’s getting that shot – it’s gone from the shooter’s hand, and I think that’s a real gift, and it’s pretty unique.”
(What’s the next step in his progression as a player?) “I think he’s gaining on the offensive end. I think he’s been pretty good at doing the things that he does well. Most of the time when he scores, it’s dunks or rebound put-backs, that type of thing. But he has some good post moves, and it just kind of depends on the day in practice. I think he’s gaining more confidence with his back to the basket moves. He likes to shoot the ball facing, too. I don’t know how much Coach (Lorenzo) Romar wants him to step out and shoot 15-footers or even 3s. He’s got that capability, but another part of Rob that maybe for his future is going to be super-beneficial is that he’s very ambidextrous. He’s real comfortable with his left hand. Big guys often times can catch and some guys can’t. But his ability to run, to catch in traffic and to keep the ball up, too, he does a really fine job of that. I think maybe one more thing that as he plays more and understands playing at this level and what his capabilities are, is you maybe see him become a little bit more – people translate this in different ways – but become a little more physical. I think often times understanding angles, understanding positioning relative to the player that’s either defending him or that he is defending. Basketball is a contact sport, and just knowing how to utilize his body in a way that’s going to be advantageous for him without being illegal. Just that type of thing where he learns how to do that a little bit better. Setting screens a little bit better. Just different things like that, that I think only come with time and knowing how the game’s played.”
(In terms of daily focus and consistency in practice, is he getting better there?) “I think he has a ways to go, and not so much because of his own issues, but I think every young player has a ways to go in that, and it’s going to speed up maybe at different rates. If you took a guy – for him, just the day to day repetition and working on those things he needs to work on, he just doesn’t have that backlog that a lot of guys maybe that have played more his age have. And so as he gains that, and understands it – then the other thing, too, I think for every player, when you realize that you can do something and you kind of make that your own, then that confidence level just continues to grow. That, to me, would be where he would really grow. Referring to him a minute ago in terms of his offensive arsenal, as he finds things that he likes to go to and gains more and more confidence, I don’t really feel like there’s a lot that he can’t do, because he is very physically talented. His ability – there’s not a lot of 7-foot guys in the country that can make a steal and dunk like a guard (referring to the UTEP game). He has that kind of ability and sense. And you can see that in his passing. I think he’s done a very good job of reading defenses. He’s been double-teamed some, getting the ball out of trouble and all those types of things. So I think the more opportunity he has to play and grow and then really grab onto the things that he does well – obviously shot-blocking’s been a big time part of that on the defensive end.”