Robert Upshaw's last name may as well be "Upside." The Los Angeles Lakers invited the most promising defensive center in college basketball to their NBA Summer League team, and fans are giddy with excitement over the 7-foot undrafted center with mountains of potential.
Why did he go undrafted? Well, Upshaw had serious problems off the court. First, he was dismissed from Fresno State. After getting a second chance with Washington State, the center set a school record with eight blocks in a single game and stood out as the best defender on the collegiate level. In January, however, the embattled center was again dismissed for problems off the court.
"I wasn't mature enough," Upshaw explained his past problems to a group of cameras and reporters assembled on the Lakers' practice court on Tuesday. "I wasn't doing the right things. At the end of the day, I was let go from both of my universities for not following the rules. I mean, I learned from it. I took some time off to really take care of myself and get back together."
The center did not shy away from the tough questions about his troubled past and spoke with openness and eloquence about what he had learned.
"I learned things about life," the 21-year-old said. "I learned things about authority: how to listen instead of talk; how to not have excuses and always try to have the answer. That's what it was for me."
He expanded, "For me, it was just about authority. I didn't do well with following the rules. I thought I was bigger than everybody, and really, I was just like every other guy playing college basketball. But I dealt with some problems off the court."
When the Lakers came calling, he met the opportunity with excitement and a smirk. Upshaw grew up in a house divided. His brother and mother were fans of the Lakers and celebrated the opportunity with wild elation. Upshaw and his father, however, supported the Sacramento Kings, but both quickly warmed to the idea of playing for the Lakers. Due to several intense playoffs series, Upshaw understood what the Lakers stood for and what being a center with the Lakers could mean.
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"This time it seems real," Upshaw said about his opportunity in LA. "It really does. It seems like if I don't make this (team), I'm done. So, I just work hard at it every day and keep my nose to the ground, do what I can do to stay here."
But he's not doing it alone. Upshaw has a support system: "I have my agency. I have a team of people that take care of me. I have a psychologist that I see on the regular. I just do everything I can do possibly to stay out of trouble."
Upshaw added, "If it doesn't start with me, it doesn't work."
All his issues have come off the court, so Upshaw's confidence on the court is not lacking. "I know I can play ball at the next level, it's just a matter of me going out there and showing everybody I can because over the last three and a half years, my off the court issues have plagued my ability to really get better at basketball."
Citing conditioning as an immediate limiting factor, the towering center with abnormally long arms admitted he's far from where he needs to be: "I'm still struggling to do a lot of things that I should have learned a long time ago. But instead, I had to mature first and I had to get over the things so I can do that. So now, even though it's a learning process, I still think I can keep up with these guys."
Without hesitation and with conviction, Upshaw said, "I do plan on being on the team by the end of the summer."
Notes: The Lakers face the top two big men taken in the 2015 NBA Draft in their first two Summer League games: Karl Anthony Towns (Minnesota) and Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia).