MURFREESBORO, Tenn. Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis looked at his 2014-15 basketball team, with all of its new faces, and had to find somebody returning who he felt could step into a position of leadership.
Reggie Upshaw has quickly moved into that role.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore, who prepped at Baylor School, leads the Blue Raiders in scoring (9.5), rebounding (6.3), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He had 11 points, four rebounds, two steals and a block Friday, when Middle Tennessee (6-5) defeated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 68-58 at the Murphy Center.
"Reggie has played great for us," Davis said Friday. "He got sick tonight; he's been fighting some illness. But he showed great heart. He's a really improving player, and his toughness is getting better. He was a big part of the championship team last year and has shown really good talent for us."
The Blue Raiders finished in a four-way tie for the Conference USA regular-season championship, but a loss to Tulsa in the semifinals of the conference tournament kept them out of the postseason. They lost six seniors and have eight newcomers on the roster this year.
After starting the first eight games of the season, Upshaw now is coming off the bench, but he still is second on the team in minutes (27.6).
"I have a bigger role on this year's team," Upshaw said Friday night. "My numbers have increased; it's definitely been a better year for me than last.
"I've tried to lead by example in practice. Just knowing what Coach Davis wants from us each day, I try to bring intensity. Our new guys don't know what Conference USA has to show them, but as far as being a leader, I just try to be vocal when needed and lead by example."
Said Davis of Upshaw's leadership: "That continues to grow. You forget he's just starting his sophomore year; we're looking him right in the eyes and telling him we need leadership from him, but those skills have come a ton in a year.
"We're going to need him to continue to play. We need Reggie to be an all-conference player this year."
It wasn't too long ago that Upshaw was torn between football and basketball as to which sport he'd play in college. Projected as a tight end in college football, he had offers from MTSU and Vanderbilt, but he also had offers from MTSU and Marshall and very high interest from West Virginia to play basketball.
He hasn't completely written off playing football again, saying "it's not too late.
"People are asking me if I plan on playing," he said with a laugh, "but as of right now, I'm just playing basketball."
He downplayed the defeat of UTC, which dropped the Mocs to 6-6 going into Monday's home game against another C-USA opponent, Alabama-Birmingham.
"It was big for me because it was my home college," Upshaw said. "It's big because it'll give us momentum going into our next game against Tennessee State on Sunday. It gives players who stepped up tonight confidence, and it gives Coach confidence in those players.
"We've shrunk the rotation some, and those players have to be ready when their name is called to step up when needed."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.