The college basketball chapter of Northern Arizona Basketball’s Senior Quinton Upshur has been all over the map.
Before arriving in Flagstaff before the start of the 2013-14 season, it was to be his third school in three years since graduating from high school in Norfolk, Virginia.
Out of high school, he signed with the Virginia Military institute where he played his first collegiate season. But after one year, it was not a fit for him.
“I couldn’t see myself doing the military thing for another three years,” he said. “It was tough for me because I had never had any military background so as soon as I got there, it was almost like a culture shock in a way.”
He then transferred to Kilgore Junior College in Texas where he helped lead the team to the regular season championship and an automatic bid to the JUCO National Tournament. It wasn’t long with the way he played at the JUCO level that a return to the division I level was imminent. But making the right choice was vital as he strived for stability.
“When I was looking into transferring back to a division I program, I wanted to make sure it was somewhere that I could see myself staying for the rest of my college career,” Upshur explained. “NAU made me feel the most comfortable as I looked at all the schools that had offered me because I wanted to go somewhere where I could build a good relationship with the coach, coaching staff and the players as well. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
Moving out to the west coast was a big deal for Upshur. He had been to Southern California once to visit a friend in high school but other than that, he had never been out west and definitely had never been to Arizona. But the relationship he had begun with head coach Jack Murphy was one that made him believe in the move to a place he knew nothing about.
“It’s been a big change for me moving out here and being so far away from home,” he mentioned. “But the relationship I have with the coaches and all the players, the players are like my brothers away from home with how much time we spend together.”
It wasn’t an easy adjustment for Upshur in the beginning on the basketball court. Here was this talented and gifted scorer who was having trouble putting the ball in the basket consistently. As a result, it was affecting the rest of his game.
“At the beginning of the season I was struggling because I was having trouble figuring out what the team needed me to do,” he recalled. “I may had been taking some bad shots but I was just figuring out my role and how I could help the team.”
There was a moment where it all turned around for Upshur.
Back on January 2nd, 2014, the Lumberjacks traveled to Missoula, Montana to face Big Sky rival, the Montana Grizzlies. Going into the game, Montana had not lost at home in 31 contests. NAU trailed at halftime but would put together a huge run in the second half. They would have a nice eight point lead late in the game but would see it dwindle to just one with a minute and a half left. All momentum was with the Grizzlies and the Lumberjacks needed to make something happen to not let the game slip away.
NAU had the ball up by one when Upshur was found open in the corner for a three which he nailed to give the Jacks a four point lead late. It swung the momentum completely and they were able to shoot free throws the rest of the way to seal the win.
Upshur and Coach Murphy believe this was the game, the play, the moment where it all came together for the junior transfer.
“Hitting that big shot against Montana gave me confidence that I was able to use for the rest of the season,” Upshur said. “It was a big shot and it gave me the confidence to know that I could hit the big one in the waining minutes of a game.”
“From that game, I understood where my shots were going to come from and what I needed to do to be successful on the team,” he added. “It made the game easier for me and made it slow down as well.”
Upshur went on the be the team’s leading scorer averaging more than 15 points per game, was named the Big Sky’s Newcomer of the Year and was named first-team All-Conference. Not bad for someone who just months earlier, had long been searching for his place in the college basketball world.
He has made the most of his time not just on the basketball player on the campus of NAU, but also off of it. Last summer, he was one of 10 players selected to play for a team called the USA Eagles which toured all across Asia. There they played in games against Professional Chinese teams and also were able to participate in some sight seeing, like visiting the Great Wall of China, and participated in community service as well.
It was the first time Upshur had the opportunity to travel outside of the country. It was a life experience but also a measuring stick for him for how basketball could continue to be part of his life after college.
“I was the player from probably the smallest school on the team,” he mentioned. “It showed me that I could compete with guys who play at a higher level in the power six conferences. And playing against those pro teams was huge because having pro aspirations myself, it showed me how much I needed to improve to put myself in the best situation to do so.”
“We also went to a deaf school in China which was a humbling experience,” he added. “You could see the smiles on their faces when we walked into the building. Their faces just lit up. I couldn’t communicate with them well because I don’t know sign language but you could just see in their faces how much they appreciated us being there.”
The lack of time off from traveling to China to then gearing up for the 2014-15 season has not fazed the now senior Upshur to this point. He is once again one of the leading scorers for the Lumberjacks as they are getting closer to Big Sky conference play in a few weeks.
Upshur said he wants nothing more than to win the Big Sky and get the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament which has been a long-time dream.