Robert Upshaw stood outside Washington’s locker room on Sunday at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, vowing that the Huskies would work harder in practice this week to atone for their 77-56 loss at No. 12 Utah.
After he answered questions, the star 7-foot center walked up the arena’s long tunnel and boarded the team bus for the airport, where a charter flight transported the Huskies men’s basketball team back to Seattle.
Nobody knew at the time that it would be the final trip of Upshaw’s UW career.
On Monday afternoon, UW announced that Upshaw, the nation’s leading shot blocker who came to the Huskies after a troubled freshman season at Fresno State, had been dismissed from the program for an unspecified violation of team rules.
“We wish Rob well as he moves forward in his life,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement, “and we will do our best to support him in the future.”
Washington (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12) is down to just nine scholarship players and its only available players taller than 6-foot-7 are starting forward Shawn Kemp Jr. (6-foot-9), injured forward Jernard Jarreau (6-10), and reserve center Gilles Dierickx (7-foot).
And Upshaw’s skills are irreplaceable. He was the best shot blocker in UW’s history, and his presence in the paint changed how opponents attacked the Huskies’ defense, which improved significantly this season. UW ranks eighth nationally in field-goal percentage defense at 36.5, and Upshaw was the primary reason.
He set the school’s single-season blocks record in his 16th game, and finishes the season with 84 blocks in 19 games — a nation-leading average of 4.4, nearly a full block per game better than the next player on the list.
Upshaw also averaged 10.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, and is projected by some NBA draft analysts as a potential first-round pick.
Yet as sudden as his dismissal was, it’s not the first time Upshaw has found himself in trouble. The Fresno, California, native originally chose to stay home and play for Fresno State, where he lasted only one season before being dismissed for multiple violations of athletic department policy.
He later transferred to Washington, but during the final several weeks of the 2013-14 season, it was revealed that Upshaw hadn’t been practicing with the team while dealing with what Romar would describe only as off-court issues.
A report by ESPN on Monday indicated that Upshaw battled drug problems while at Fresno State, and a Yahoo Sports story earlier this season noted that he spent time at the Houston-based John Lucas’ Treatment and Recovery Center after leaving Fresno.
But once practices began this season, Upshaw was a full participant, and Romar noted that Upshaw had made “huge strides” since last year.