There was a time early in the 2014-15 season when it seemed former Washington Huskies center Robert Upshaw had a chance to hear his name called in the first round of the NBA draft, which commences 4 p.m. Thursday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (ESPN).
And while that's still considered possible, many projections have Upshaw, the 7-footer who set UW's single-season blocks record in just 19 games, somewhere in the second round, where he's viewed as a "boom or bust" prospect.
That seems to be somewhat of a consensus -- that Upshaw's talent as a shot-blocking defensive star earns him consideration as a first-rounder, but that his troubled past, including dismissals from both Fresno State and Washington, might make teams a little nervous about investing in him with a guaranteed contract. He's since opened up about battling drug addiction, which he speaks about in some depth in this Fox Sports story. An excerpt:
Then Upshaw went to college, and he tasted freedom, and the big guy with the big personality started getting into big trouble. He never smoked pot until he was in college. And even then, Upshaw says, his drug use was confined to hanging out with friends. Then it became more. And more. And eventually it led to Upshaw, this extraordinary talent, getting kicked out of two schools and being considered one of the most radioactive prospects in next week's NBA Draft.
"I didn't think anything of it at first," Upshaw told me recently. "It didn't come to a bad habit until on down the line. It led to stress, anxiety, depression -- all self-destructive stuff. But I'm not out here raping women, beating women. I'm not driving drunk. I'm not causing a ruckus with the police. I'm in the safety of my own home. So I thought everybody was blowing it out of proportion."
But since his head coach at Washington, Lorenzo Romar, kicked him off the team in January, Upshaw says he's changed his life. It was the final wakeup call. Now, he refers to his drug problems as an "addiction." He has surrounded himself with therapists. He went to rehab. He attends meetings.
(It's also worth noting that that Upshaw missed some training time earlier this month after doctors at the NBA flagged a heart condition, though he's reportedly been cleared and has resumed workouts with NBA teams,and his agent has said that Upshaw was already aware of the heart issue and that it had been OK'd in the past
CBS Sports rates Upshaw as the No. 6 center prospect in this year's draft, and also picks him as one of the top five potential late second-round steals, labeling him as the most mercurial player in the draft:
The game was so easy for him around the rim at times, he looked like he was playing with an 8-foot hoop -- seriously. Upshaw is a risk considering his past, but his upside is undeniable. This is a 21-year-old with lottery-level talent and junior-college level maturity.
Some links and notes on Upshaw's draft status, including a few mocks:
--- DraftExpress projects Upshaw as the 45th overall pick -- mid-second round -- to the Boston Celtics in that website's latest mock draft.
--- FOX Sports' Reid Forgrave is far more optimistic about Upshaw's draft stock, and projects him to be selected in the first round at No. 20 overall to the Toronto Raptors.
--- If Upshaw is drafted, it would mark the ninth season out of the last 11 -- and seventh of the last eight -- in which at least one Husky has been selected. He would also be only the second center drafted during Romar's tenure at UW. Spencer Hawes (2007) was the first.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple