When it comes to Marc Upshaw, not only is former NBA player and coach Sam Mitchell one of his best friends, he's one of his biggest fans, too.
"It's way overdue," said Mitchell of Upshaw's induction into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. "(Upshaw) doesn't get near as much credit as he deserves as one of the best basketball players to ever come from Columbus. To be 6-foot-6 and 200-plus pounds and do the kinds of things he did in terms of handling the ball, scoring and playing defense, you just don't see those kinds of players very often. Watching him play made me want to play like him."
Upshaw was born and raised in Columbus, attending Columbus High where he played two years with Mitchell. Mitchell was a freshman in 1978 when Upshaw averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds as a junior and Upshaw increased those numbers to 30 points and 11 rebounds per game as a senior. His jersey number 44 was retired in a ceremony before a Columbus High game during the 2012-13 season.
After originally signing with Georgia, Upshaw attended the University of Rhode Island -- where his cousin, Claude English (himself a member of the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame) was an assistant coach at the time.
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"I feel like overall I had a good college career," said Upshaw, who majored in Communications and minored in Marketing at URI. "I can't find too many negatives, except I was so far away from home. I missed my family and friends a lot, but my teammates at URI were great.
"A lot of them were from the East Coast and Delaware, Maryland and places like that. They took me under their wing and helped me learn a lot of things and took me places I'd never been, like Boston, New York,
Philadelphia and New Jersey. Those places always intrigued me growing up and I got to see them."
Upshaw worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman and led the team in scoring his sophomore year, averaging 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds as the Rams put together a 21-8 record and qualified for the National Invitational Tournament. As a junior, he was voted first team All-Conference in the Atlantic 10 after averaging 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Upshaw looked set to have a monster senior season, but the injury bug bit him hard.
"I had aspirations for a really good senior year and I hoped to go to next level," Upshaw said. "My senior year, I hurt my knee and tore my ACL, which was devastating, but it was also a blessing. I got hurt in the fifth game of the season. If I'd gotten hurt in the sixth game of my senior year, I wouldn't have been able to play a fifth year. That allowed me to rehab and come back and play a fifth season. My knee wasn't as strong and my stock really went down. I really had to think about what I had to do to go to the next level, but I wanted to make sure I graduated on time and was set in a lot of other areas. I feel good about my college career, though."
Upshaw's career-high in scoring was 33 points against Widener in January 1982 and his best rebounding game was a 17-rebound effort against Stonehill in November 1982. For his career (1979, 1982-84), Upshaw scored 1,258 points, which still ranks 31st on the school's list of all-time scorers.
The Atlanta Hawks invited Upshaw to their rookie camp, but he was unable to make their roster for the 1984-85 season. Instead of continuing to chase the dream of playing professional basketball, Upshaw decided to move in another direction.
"There's no doubt about it (a knee injury suffered during rookie camp) was the sign I needed to move on," said Upshaw. "I was in Atlanta for 7 days and on the last day, (Atlanta Hawks coach Mike) Fratello called me to his office. He told me that the next day they were going to take two guards with the rest of the team to play the Lakers and unfortunately I was the third guard.
"(Fratello) told me to go overseas for a year, get the knee stronger and told me to come back. He gave me the number of a coach overseas and I took the paper, shook his hand and thanked him for the opportunity. I walked away from there and decided it was time to move on with my life. I had to take on a different mindset and take a different career path. I'm kind of glad I gave up when I did and chose a different path. I have no regrets."
After working as a sales representative for a major health insurance agency, Upshaw started Global Diagnostic Services, Inc., in 1994. The company operates medical staffing and mobile diagnostic divisions that service correctional institutions in nine states. The company's corporate offices are in Conyers, Ga., where Upshaw now lives.
"Twenty years ago, I started a company on a hope, a prayer and a dream," said Upshaw. "I had this dream of owning my own medical company. We have about 60-plus employees and our company has really become a blessing. I never thought it would come this far. Initially, we just started out with doctor's offices and we later extended into the corrections industry. It keeps me really busy but it's very, very nice and been a blessing to my whole family."
The success Upshaw has had with his company -- along with Mitchell's lengthy NBA playing and coaching career -- allowed the pair to start the SaMarc Dream & Achieve Foundation in 2005. The Foundation sponsors an annual free basketball camp, several life-enrichment tours to such places as the NASA Space Center, Washington D.C. and the Bahamas, multiple learning centers in Columbus as well as college scholarships.
"(Sam) and I wanted to come back and give back to the kids in the community," said Upshaw, who grew up with Mitchell in the East Highland part of Columbus. "We both grew up in same area and went to Columbus High. We worked out every day and talked about the things we wanted to do when we grew up. Both of us wanted to own our own businesses, be pro athletes or coach. Being from the toughest area in Columbus, our motto was that one of us was going to make it. When we started the foundation, we wanted to do a free camp so everybody who wanted to be there could come. The camp was going well and we wanted to add additional components, so we opened the learning centers. Then we started thinking about what could we do to open their minds and eyes to the world beyond Columbus. Other things and other places. We started thinking about places we'd gone and places to show them, so we added tours. Then we added the scholarships."
Upshaw said the foundation has always been about more than just sports, even when he and Mitchell were only conducting the free basketball camp.
"We'd have lawyers, bank officers and policemen come in and talk about life and how they faced their challenges," said Upshaw. "It wasn't just about basketball. They walked away with lessons about life, too. It was about the mind as well as the body. We always use the last week of July because it's the week before school starts. We want to push education and put them in right frame of mind for school. We've used our foundation to expose kids to things they've never done and places they've never gone. It's been very gratifying, so much so that we've had other NBA players call us and ask questions so they could base their foundations off what we do. That's pretty special for us."
Mitchell said he and Upshaw couldn't decide what to name their foundation, but not because either wanted their name to be the focus.
"Things really have taken on a life of their own," said Mitchell. "When we started out with the basketball camp, both of us thought the other person's name should come first. We've really been able to impact a lot of lives in a good way. I remember when we first started working on it, (Upshaw) told me that we're going to get a lot more out of this than we could ever give and it's really true. It's one of the better things I've done outside of raising my kids."
Upshaw said he is excited about being inducted into the Hall of Fame because it enables a new generation of basketball fans and players in Columbus to learn about the past.
"I was pretty elated when I found out," said Upshaw. "Moreso for my family than myself, though. A lot of people don't know what I did back in high school and college and this gives them a chance to see what I did."