Epps the new humble star of UK Hoops


Kentucky guard Makayla Epps points to the ceiling before time runs out during the second half of the UK vs. South Carolina at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington , Ky., on Sunday, March 1, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Krueger

By Kris Reid and Kevin Erpenbeck

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The SEC is arguably the toughest women’s basketball conference in the nation.

The challenge of being the starting point guard in the SEC is that much tougher, a task that sophomore Makayla Epps was thrust into.

“Being a contributing point guard in the SEC is rough,” Epps said.

After the loss of Janee Thompson, Epps was required to take the reigns of the point position. The loss of Thompson emotionally, mentally and physically affected the team.

“We turned the disappointment and sadness of a player being injured into energy and fire,” Epps said.

Without the leadership and skill of Thompson, UK needed a viable player to fill that role.

Now without Thompson, who averaged 3.1 assists per game, Epps filled that position after head coach Matthew Mitchell deemed her the successor. Since then, Epps has flourished. During her freshman year, she averaged 4.6 points per game, 1.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists. After becoming the point guard, Epps has averaged 14.5 ppg, 4.69 rebounds and three assists, and leads in minutes with 32.

“I think her whole mentality has changed,” sophomore Linnae Harper said. “From just watching and trying to learn, to now actually taking on that role and making it happen for us. I think as time progresses, she’s going to be a better leader and it’s going to be better for our team.”

Along with the title of the leader of the offense, comes more responsibilities. The added pressure has been made that more difficult due to a nagging strained Achilles tendon.

“I’ve been battling that Achilles for some time now,” Epps said. “It’s really aggravating, but when you’re out there, with the adrenaline in the moment, you don’t even feel the pain.”

That burst of adrenaline allows her to push through the pain, which results in some high scoring games.

Against Mississippi State, Epps scored a career and season-high 42 points in UK’s double-overtime win against the Bulldogs. In the rematch in the SEC Tournament, Epps scored a game-high 31 points in the comeback win.

Epps is confident in this team making a run in the NCAA Tournament, and looks to add to her family legacy with a championship trophy. Her father, Anthony Epps, won a national championship with the men’s basketball team in 1996.

“He knows the ropes,” Epps said of her father. “I’ve never questioned what he’s told me I need to do and work on … I needed that growing up. He’s real supportive, real motivational, he’s just a great father.”

Anthony Epps coached Epps throughout her high school career, and sometimes still coaches from the stands. Her respect for her father transitions onto the court as she models her game after him. She even wears the same jersey number as he did, number 25.

The Marion County native is a country girl at heart. While at home, she rides horses and fishes, which is ironic considering her best friend on the team, Harper, is a native of Chicago.

“When we met at the McDonalds All-American game,” Epps said. “We got the chance to relax and get to know each other. You’ve got a kid from Chicago and you’ve got a kid from a small country town in Kentucky. For people like that to be best friends, I find it real significant.”