Upham Switches Gears to Redlands' Fast Lane : Basketball: The emphasis was on defense at Corona del Mar, but 6-foot-5 freshman has adapted to games with scores as high as 151-110.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It didn't take long for Jon Upham to realize he had signed up for something completely different.

Upham, a graduate of Corona del Mar High's defense-first basketball program, was at his first practice for the University of Redlands, a team that has won the NCAA Division III scoring title two of the past three seasons.

If the contrast hadn't sunk in already for Upham, that practice session--which featured 24 minutes of full-court running and gunning--was a lung-opening experience.

"I was dying," Upham said. "I was gasping for air. I was playing against all these guys who had played before and they were just taking off.

"I was trying to catch up but I was lost for a while."

Upham soon recovered his basketball bearings, and has grown accustomed to the switch from Corona del Mar, a team that won a playoff game, 39-36, to Redlands, a team that has often scored more than 70 points in a half.

He has become a valuable reserve for the Bulldogs, who are 6-1 entering the UC San Diego tournament Friday and Saturday. He also is enjoying the collegiate environment at Redlands.

"It's neat because I've eaten dinner at my professors' houses," Upham said. "We have 25 people in a class, max. It's a neat atmosphere; I really like it."

On the court, Upham, a 6-foot-5 swing player, is one of the first substitutes off the Redlands bench. He is averaging 9.7 points in 19 minutes of playing time for the Bulldogs, who are averaging 108 points.

All that offense has led to some good-natured ribbing from Corona del Mar basketball Coach Paul Orris, who can only shake his head at scores such as Redlands 151, LIFE Bible 110.

"(Orris) would like to hold opponents to less than 30 points or whatever," Upham said. "He gives me a little guff about that one because he thinks all we do is play offense and no defense."

Upham puts up little defense to Orris' argument--"I just kind of laugh and don't say much"--but insists that Redlands Coach Gary Smith puts as much emphasis on defense as Orris did.

Redlands plays an aggressive man-to-man defense that aims to boost the tempo and help unleash the Bulldogs fast break.

Smith, who is in his 21st season at Redlands, said Upham is getting more playing time than a freshman usually does in his program. "He came from a background that was very fundamentally grounded in defense," Smith said. "And because of that, it's easier to come into a system like ours and be able to play sooner."

Despite Redlands' different style, Orris believes Upham picked an excellent program and would like to take his Corona del Mar team to see Redlands play.

"Jon is a good example of a kid being realistic about where he can play," Orris said. "Not sacrificing his education for athletics, but putting the two together."

Upham, who averaged nearly 20 points and was a second-team All-Southern Section Division III selection for Corona del Mar last season, considered enrolling at a larger school (Redlands has 1,450 students) and trying to make the team as a walk-on.

He studied his options, and visited schools such as Willamette and Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. During that trip, an uncle who is a professor at the University of Oregon arranged a meeting with an Oregon assistant coach.

The assistant was cordial, but it was clear to Upham that he was out of his element.

"I walked out and felt so dumb because I knew that wasn't my place," Upham said. "I knew maybe I could walk on, hopefully make the team and maybe get some playing time my senior year."

He wanted more than that, and decided that Redlands would meet his athletic and academic needs.

"We're glad he decided to come to Redlands," Smith said. "He's a solid player, a fine young man and a good student, and that's the type of person we hope we have in our program."

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