Robert Upshaw has problems. He has been kicked out of college-twice- for a vague variety of issues that often get chalked up to personal demons. He's 21 years old, and his life is at a crossroads. He has to make changes in his life if he hopes to have a successful one, a fact that he is well aware of. While we can't pretend to know exactly what issues have been plaguing him, we can certainly empathize with struggling against internal forces and hope for the best, that as a person he is able to realize his potential.
In truth there are a lot of people in the world battling their own personal afflictions, but Robert Upshaw is different than most of them. He just so happens to be a 7-foot tall, 260-pound basketball prodigy, and for at least this summer, he's a Los Angeles Laker.
Our own Ben Rosales did a fantastic job of detailing why Upshaw is so important to the Lakers rebuilding process, and I won't take time here to rehash what Ben so eloquently said in his piece. The bottom line is that Robert Upshaw is a lottery-level talent that went undrafted after a heart condition was discovered during the workout process prior to the draft.
He has since been cleared to play, but the combination of his heart condition and past issues were too big of a risk for teams to take. Prior to the heart condition red-flag, Upshaw was projected by most experts to be drafted somewhere in the early 20's, leaving the Lakers little chance of being able to select him at 27.
Think about that: a player who was kicked out of not one but two college programs was projected to be selected near the middle of the first round of the NBA draft in spite of his issues. That tells you everything you need to know about Upshaw's potential as a basketball player, and why Lakers fans are so fascinated by him.
With Upshaw falling out of the draft completely, the Lakers snatched him up quickly for their summer league team. They are hopeful that they may have found a diamond in the rough, a player that can bring value beyond his draft position like Jordan Clarkson did last year.
Upshaw recently gave an interview to 950 KJR in Seattle (he played college ball for Washington) that is absolutely worth a listen for Lakers fans. Here are a few of his quotes from the interview:
On going undrafted and then getting the call to join the Lakers Summer League team:
I was excited, just to have this opportunity and be a part of this franchise...to show what I can do, it's amazing. It's a once in a lifetime chance and I'm just excited to take it.
On the soul searching he has had to do:
I had to really get in touch with myself, I really had to grow up...I really felt like I needed an opportunity to find myself, so I took some time off from basketball, took time off from everyone else and really got myself together, and now I'm so happy that I did it because I feel so much better and I'm much happier.
On his plans for after Summer League ends:
I can tell you this: there is a big possibility that I'm going to be a Los Angeles Laker at the end of all of this.
On playing against Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor in the first two games of the Summer League:
I'm excited, they are two really good basketball players and I consider myself a really good basketball player... it's going to be exciting.
Again, I would highly recommend checking out the interview in full, it's worth a listen. Robert Upshaw has an uphill climb ahead of him, but the talent is there for him to be one of the best players to come out of this draft class, and that's not hyperbole.
Let's hope for his sake, and the Lakers, that he is up to the challenge.
Follow Trevor Lane on Twitter @16ringsNBA