Zeke Upshaw, whose basketball career at Hofstra was brief but impactful, died Monday, two days after collapsing during the final minute of an NBA G League game in Michigan between his Grand Rapids Drive and the Long Island Nets. He was 26.
“He was living the dream,’’ Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “We’re talking [in the office] the other day, he was playing so good, maybe he gets a 10-day contract with the Pistons, and the next thing you know . . . There’s a great picture of him here. It will never come down as long as I’m here.’’
On Saturday, Upshaw was taken from the court by stretcher and rushed to Spectrum Health, a nearby facility. The Drive issued a statement from Jewel Upshaw, the player’s mother: “After continued efforts from the medical team at Spectrum Health, Zeke made his transition at 11:16 a.m. To family, friends, teammates, coaches, fans & confidants, thank you for your prayers and support during this most difficult time.’’
No cause of death was announced.
In a statement, the Nets extended “their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Zeke Upshaw. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and the Grand Rapids Drive organization during this difficult time.”
A 6-6 swingman from Chicago, Upshaw had scored 11 points in the game to help the Drive make the playoffs. He was in his second season after playing two years overseas in Slovenia and Luxembourg.
Nets guard Milton Doyle, who was called up from the Long Island Nets on Monday, was on the court when Upshaw collapsed.
“We didn’t know what happened because he just fell, and I didn’t see [anything], so I thought maybe he got hit or something happened like that,” Doyle said at Nets practice on Monday.
Upshaw came to Hofstra as a graduate student in 2013-14 with a degree in apparel, merchandising and design from Illinois State. He had averaged only 2.5 points in his senior year at Illinois State, but with a year of eligibility remaining, he became the Colonial Athletic Association’s leading scorer with a 19.8 average. Upshaw scored 655 points for Hofstra that season after scoring 100 in three seasons at Illinois State.
“He came here five years ago and had his best year,’’ said Mihalich, who was then in his first season with the Pride. “He almost was just going to graduate and pack it in. He got his degree, basketball wasn’t going that great [at Illinois State]. He wasn’t sure he was going to go someplace and play. He comes here, gives us a chance, we give him a chance. It worked out great for him, it worked out great for us. Now we’re successful. When he came here, we couldn’t tell him that. We said, ‘Look, man, we’re at rock bottom,’ and he came.’’
Former Hofstra guard Dion Nesmith, who transferred from Monmouth, became close with Upshaw.
“We both followed the same narrative. It was something Zeke and I talked about,’’ Nesmith said. “We were going to be the two older guys on the team. Coach wanted to have a veteran presence. We worked very hard to be at the top of our games. Together we both had our best years. It was a proud moment to see him fulfill his dreams of going to be a professional basketball player, playing overseas and going and playing G League basketball.’’
Nesmith also thought Upshaw, who had visited Nesmith last summer in his New Jersey residence, had a chance to make the Pistons, saying: “He shot the ball really well, something that really translates to the NBA game. It’s very tough to have someone that you are so close with have this happen. It’s so sad.’’
With Laura Albanese