Washington will need Fresno State transfer to step forward in 2014-15

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Last season the Washington Huskies didn’t have much in the way of front court depth, especially with Jernard Jarreau suffering a torn ACL in the season opener and Desmond Simmons missing time early in the year as a result of his own knee issues. With leading rebounder Perris Blackwell out of eligibility and Simmons having transferred to Saint Mary’s, Washington will need its remaining front court options to step forward if they’re to improve on their 9-9 conference record (17-15 overall) of a season ago.

One option in the paint for Washington is Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, who sat out all of last season after joining the program. Upshaw was a highly-regarded recruit when he decided to join Rodney Terry’s program, but disciplinary issues stunted his growth and ultimately led to his dismissal from the Fresno State program.

One of the big questions this offseason: is Upshaw ready to not just join the Washington rotation but be a significant contributor? In an interview with Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar spoke about the redshirt sophomore’s work to improve his standing within the program, as there were some questions at the end of last season regarding whether or not Upshaw would be on the team this season.

(After the season-ending loss to Utah in March, you were unsure if Upshaw would be with the team this season. But it sounds like you’re confident about him playing now.) “I would say this to Robert’s credit there were some things that we had talked about. There were some expectations and I think he’s worked hard at trying to do the right thing. As a result, we’re all in this together now.”

There were also questions about what kind of player Upshaw could potentially be for the Huskies this season, and while the talent was acknowledged there’s also the need to exercise caution when it comes to what’s to be expected of the 6-foot-11 center from a production standpoint.

(Just from the little bit that I’ve seen, he’s jaw dropping, but you see him every day. Is he someone that can be consistent, to show up and give you whatever he’s got. It seems the gamble is can you bank on him to be consistent for 30 games and not just games, but practices, meetings and getting wherever you need to be. Can you count him over the course of a season?) “That’s one of the things we’re going to find out. You look at how many players you can count on for that in general. Secondly, how many young players bere they’ve actually played and proven themselves. When you think about it, Robert missed quite a few games his freshman year and then he sat out last year and he did not play his senior year in high school. I would hope people wouldn’t think that he comes in from Day 1 and he’s setting the world on fire. He hasn’t played organized basketball in college on a consistent basis in three years. So in fairness to him, it may take him a little while to get going. But the talent is there.”

Having Jarreau back in the rotation will help Washington, as he was expected to be a key figure for the Huskies last season. But there are also some significant questions to answer in the front court. Can Gilles Dierickx take a step forward after playing in just 14 games last season? More will be needed from Shawn Kemp Jr. as well, and guard Mike Anderson proved to be a productive option despite being undersized at just 6-foot-4.

On the perimeter the Huskies have a talented base in sophomores Nigel Williams-Goss and Darin Johnson, and junior Andrew Andrews. But whether or not they make a move up the Pac-12 standings will depend on their front court, and whether or not that group can account for the loss of Blackwell and Simmons. If Upshaw proves capable of stepping forward, the Huskies will have a chance to improve on last year’s 17-15 record.