Fresno State suspends center Robert Upshaw

UNLV’s Anthony Marshall, left, drives into Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw during an NCAA basketball game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas Saturday, March 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)

Fresno State center Robert Upshaw has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of athletic department policy and team rules, his second suspension this season and one that puts an awkward stop to the progress he had made in a regular-season ending victory at UNLV in which he grabbed 11 rebounds and had two blocked shots in his best game of the season.

The 7-foot freshman from Memorial High will not play on Wednesday in the seventh-seeded Bulldogs’ quarterfinal game at the Mountain West Conference Tournament against Colorado State or in the next round should they beat the Rams to advance.

Coach Rodney Terry could not be immediately reached for comment –- the Bulldogs are en route to Las Vegas for the tournament, which starts with a play-in game on Tuesday.

Upshaw, regarded as the top recruit for the Bulldogs in what was considered a strong 2012 recruiting class, was suspended for three games in February for a violation of athletic department policy and sat out games against UNLV, at San Diego State and against New Mexico.

He also missed the missed the first four games of the season coming back from a knee injury suffered in practice and this season is averaging 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

When Fresno State’s Upshaw returns from suspension, playing time to be determined

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw, right, fades back for a jumper while guarded by UC Irvine’s Will Davis II, left, and Adam Folker during their game at the Save Mart Center on Dec. 15, 2012. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot freshman center at Fresno State, will serve the last of a three-game suspension on Wednesday when the Bulldogs play Mountain West Conference-leading New Mexico at the Save Mart Center.

And when he comes back his seat on the bench will be no farther or closer to the scorer’s table than it was before, coach Rodney Terry said.

“All of that takes care of itself in practice. If a guy works hard, shows he’s focused and he’s ready and he’s prepared to play, then he’ll have a chance to play,” Terry said.

Upshaw, who was suspended for a violation of athletic department policy and missed a victory over Nevada-Las Vegas and a loss at San Diego State, has been in practice with the Bulldogs during the suspension, just not in games. But he has struggled in his first season of college basketball, often floating through games at both ends of the floor and not really being much of a presence. He has hit only 36.8% of his shots (32 of 87) and is averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game.

In the four games before the suspension he had hit only 1 of 10 shots and didn’t take any in a loss to Colorado State, and the Bulldogs do have another big body now that they didn’t two weeks ago with the addition of freshman forward Braeden Anderson.

“He hasn’t missed any practice time, he’s missed game time and we look for him to work his way back into the rotation and stay ready for when the opportunity for him to play presents itself,” Terry said.

‘Dogs without Upshaw, but not without a chance

Fresno State is about an hour away from tip, matched on Saturday against No. 25 San Diego State at the Viejas Arena. It is the second game the Bulldogs will be without freshman center Robert Upshaw, who was suspended for three games earlier in the week for a violation of athletic department policy.

But not having the 7-foot Upshaw in the lineup hasn’t exactly hurt the Bulldogs. There is a common thread in their two Mountain West Conference wins – Upshaw did not get any minutes in a 49-36 victory over Wyoming and he did not play in a 64-55 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas, the first game in his suspension.

Upshaw is averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game, and has hit only 36.8 percent (32 of 87) of his shots, most coming around the basket.

Fresno State freshman center Robert Upshaw suspended for three games

Robert Upshaw

Fresno State freshman center Robert Upshaw has been suspended three games for a violation of athletic department policy and will not play on Wednesday against Nevada-Las Vegas at the Save Mart Center, at Saturday at No. 22 San Diego State and next Wednesday at home against New Mexico.

Upshaw, a Memorial High product, missed the first four games of the season coming back from a knee injury suffered in practice. He is averaging 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game.

To this point, the Bulldogs are not on the rebound

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw, right, snags a rebound away from UC Irvine’s Conor Clifford, left, and Adam Folker during their game at the Save Mart Center Saturday, December 15, 2012. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

The first step will be to get Air Force to miss a few shots, which will not be easy for the Fresno State Bulldogs because it hasn’t been easy for any team that has matched up against the Falcons. They are leading the Mountain West Conference and ranked 17th in the nation in field goal percentage, have three starters hitting better than 51 percent of their shots.

After that, they can think about rebounding the basketball better and turning around a season-long soft spot that has cost them opportunities to win some basketball games.

The Bulldogs are last in the conference and 310th of 345 in the nation in rebounding margin at minus-4.8 per game, have been out-rebounded in 12 of their 17 games against Division I opponents and by 10 or more rebounds in eight of those games including a minus-19 in losses to UC Irvine (49-30) and Colorado State (40-21).

Like most things with this young group, which includes 7-foot freshman Robert Upshaw and 6-foot-10 freshman Tanner Giddings, it is a learning experience. Minutes on the court count.

‘’That’s something that, again, through experience, through guys getting stronger, we’ll be better in the future for,’’ Coach Rodney Terry said. ‘’Our young guys have learned to do a pretty good job on the first block out, but, I mean, there could be two, three opportunities on one possession to hold that block out.

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Bulldogs lose to Nevada, but Upshaw takes a step forward

Robert Upshaw never got off the bench the last time Fresno State played a basketball game, the 7-foot center getting zero minutes in that victory over Wyoming.

The freshman had yet to really exert himself, at either end of the floor. A knee injury suffered before the season had set him back, costing strength, conditioning and a comfort level with the concepts on offense and defense.

But Coach Rodney Terry was looking for more, and got some on Saturday in a 68-61 loss to Nevada at the Save Mart Center.

Upshaw entered with 12:53 remaining in the first half and ended up playing 18 minutes. He missed all three of his shots, getting all four of his points at the free throw line. But he was much more of a presence at the defensive end, grabbing five rebounds and blocking five shots.

Numbers aside, he was much more aggressive than he has been.

‘’I thought Robert was very aggressive,’’ Terry said. ‘’He gave us a shot blocker inside there, gave us someone in there that, we knew around the basket their big guys really struggle scoring over high hands and finishing in there and stuff, and he did a really good job coming in and being an intimidating force back in the back for us.’’

 

More from Fresno State Coach Rodney Terry on lineup moves

Fresno State’s Robert Upshaw goes around Colorado’s Josh Scott Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2012 in Fresno, Calif. (GARY KAZANJIAN/THE FRESNO BEE)

The question could be asked, ‘What took you so long?’ Robert Upshaw, the 7-foot center at Fresno State, was grinding a bit trying to find a fit on the basketball court, after getting a late start due to a knee injury suffered the first week of practices back in October. That goes at both ends of the court, and beyond his statistics – 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game.

But the decision to sit Upshaw in a 49-36 victory over Wyoming at the Save Mart Center, did not just happen. Coach Rodney Terry pointed out that he had played the freshman only 24 minutes in a loss at New Mexico when the Lobos had a 7-footer on the floor in Alex Kirk and the Bulldogs were down a big man with Kevin Foster home in Florida with his family after a death in the family.

‘’You know what, he’s just a freshman, just a freshman and understanding the urgency of play at this time of year and what it means. That’s all,’’ Terry said. ‘’There’s nothing different from any other freshman that we have right now. They’re learning that whole process likewise and understanding every possession counts. I don’t care if you’re in practice or in games it matters this time of year.

‘’He is working through that. I think all of our young guys are working through that and understanding the accountability and what we expect and we’re not going to settle for anything less.

‘’The urgency needs to be there and the understanding, from the first day of preparation for that game. It doesn’t have to be just the day of the game, it’s everything that leads up to that and we’re going to go with the guys that we feel most confident in doing that. Guys show that every day in practice, who deserves to play and who doesn’t deserve to play. They earn that.

‘’Like I said last night, guys have to punch the clock every day. They do what they’re supposed to do and work the way we want them to work and have the urgency then they’re going to play. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s pretty simple.’’

The situation with Kevin Olekaibe was different. The junior guard was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season and played only 11 minutes, a career-low.

Olekaibe, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer last season with 17.8 points a game, has been struggling with his shot since coming back from an elbow injury. He has made only 32.1 percent of his shots and only 28 percent at the 3-point line. He was at 37.2 percent and 33.8 percent last season.

‘’I think K.O. is definitely giving us effort. He’s definitely trying as hard as he can,’’ Terry said. ‘’We wanted to take some pressure off him and I think that helped him in the rotation a little bit in terms of not putting so much pressure on himself to feel like he has to do more than he has to right now.’’

 

For Fresno State freshmen Upshaw and Giddings, only time will help heal some wounds

Robert Upshaw and Tanner Giddings, the freshmen bigs at Fresno State, were on the short end of quite a few skirmishes against New Mexico center Alex Kirk and forward Cameron Bairstow in a 72-45 loss to the Lobos on Saturday at The Pit in Albuquerque.

Kirk, a 7-foot, 250-pound redshirt sophomore, made eight of his 13 shots and grabbed 14 rebounds, eight on the offensive end. Bairstow, a 6-9, 250-pound junior making his fourth start this season, hit his first six shots of the game and finished with 16 points and five rebounds. And they were  a big reason the Lobos were a plus-18 in rebounding margin (43-25), the largest they have had this season.

The second half was better than the first for Upshaw and Giddings, who were playing at a deficit in experience, size and strength. But both should have been very instructive for the Bulldogs’ freshman, Coach Rodney Terry said.

A stronger second half, by no means is enough to put things right, though.

‘’You know what it’s going to take? It’s going to take a whole season of that,’’ Terry said. ‘’That’s what those guys have been through.  Guarantee you, you go take a look at Kirk, I bet he averaged three points a game, four points a game, as a freshman. I know the other kid, Bairstow, averaged two points a game.

‘’Go look at the other players in the league. (San Diego State wing) Jamaal Franklin, he averaged two points a game as a freshman.’’

Terry was pretty close – Kirk averaged 4.7 points in 15.0 minutes a game as a freshman, had only 21 points in his final 16 games and went scoreless in nine of them, while Bairstow averaged 2.6 points playing an average of 9.7 minutes in 31 games.

Franklin, who scored 20 points, had 18 rebounds and one crazy dunk when the Aztecs beat the Bulldogs in the Mountain West opener for both teams, played in only 22 games his first season. He averaged 2.9 points per game.

‘’We’re building with young guys right now and it’s going to take some time,’’ Terry said. ‘’It’s not going to happen overnight. And we happen to be playing in one of the best leagues in the country, that’s probably the best that’s ever been, and you just have to grow through it. You have to grow through it and that’s the challenge for us. I’ll say this, they’re getting on the job training right now.

‘’There’s no team in this league that’s playing with freshmen right now or relying on freshmen to win games. Look at it, they’re all older players and they’ve all been through the wars in this league. This league is a monster, and it will continue to be a monster.

‘’But our guys are getting a chance to learn on the job as we go through it here. I’m not making any excuses for them, but they’re going to be getting it all year and we’re going to be better for it.’’

Robert Upshaw to make Fresno State debut at Cal Poly

Fresno State center Robert Upshaw, who has been working his way back from a knee injury suffered the first week of practices, will make his debut on Monday when the Bulldogs play at Cal Poly.

”You know, Robert has made a lot of really good progress, he really has,” Coach Rodney Terry said. ”Our training staff has done a great job with him. He’s had a chance to get another look by Dr. (Eric) Hanson and they feel good about where he’s at right now at the present time. He’s been cleared and we held him out tonight (a 66-61 victory over Pacific) because we want to put Robert in the best position.

”We’re not going to rush his process, we’re not going to throw him in there when he’s not ready right now. We want to get a little bit more practice time prior to him getting a little game time. But, Monday night, he’s going to get a chance to get a little bit of action. I don’t know how much or how long, but he’ll get a little taste of it. We’re going to ease him back in this process and not just throw him out there and expect him to be out there and be a 30-minute guy for us. That’s not going to happen.

”We’re going to take it slow with him and bring him along.”

 

Bulldogs’ could have center Robert Upshaw back well before start of conference play

There is no exact timetable on the return of Fresno State center Robert Upshaw, who suffered a knee injury the first week of basketball practices.

But Coach Rodney Terry said it is possible that the 7-footer from Memorial High, the top player in a strong Bulldogs’ recruiting class, could be in the lineup well before the start of Mountain West Conference play.

The key is patience.

‘’We have a general idea, but all that is dictated by the training staff and how far he comes in his rehab with the training staff and getting that thing right,’’ Terry said. ‘’Until they come back from a trainers standpoint and a doctors standpoint and tell us, hey, he’s fully ready to go, that’s when we go with it.

‘’Upshaw is making a lot of good progress. But we’re going to be, just like we were with (Kevin Olekaibe), very cautious with how we handle his situation.

”These guys are young players, they’ve got good futures ahead of them and the last thing we want to do is rush a guy back so we’re going to be very patient, almost to a fault, as to when those guys are ready to go. We did that with K.O. all the way to the end and we’ll do the same thing with Robert.’’