LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky women’s basketball stars Evelyn Akhator and Makayla Epps will begin their professional careers in the Women’s National Basketball Association as both were selected in the 2017 WNBA Draft, which was held Thursday night in New York City.
Akhator was selected third overall by the Dallas Wings, becoming the highest draft pick in school history. Akhator is the third player in program history to be a first-round selection and the first since A’dia Mathies in 2013. Epps became the fifth Matthew Mitchell coached player to be selected, going 33rd overall to the Chicago Sky.
Akhator and Epps are the first Kentucky players selected in the WNBA Draft since DeNesha Stallworth was taken 25th overall in the 2014 draft. In his 10-year tenure with the Wildcats, Matthew Mitchell has now had five players selected in the WNBA Draft. Victoria Dunlap was the second-ever UK player selected back in 2011, while Mathies was previously the highest pick in school history going 10th in 2013.
“I am very proud of Evelyn and Makayla,” Mitchell said. “They have grown so much while they have been at Kentucky. Both of them have tremendous character that will help them be very successful. I am very happy for them on this exciting day. They have both worked extremely hard to get to this point. I know they will work even harder to realize their dream of playing in the WNBA. We are behind them all the way.”
Akhator took her game to a new level this season, sitting second on the team with 15.9 points per game and first on the squad with 10.8 rebounds per game. Akhator also ranked second on the team with 45 steals while leading the Wildcats with 29 blocks. The native of Lagos, Nigeria, had 18 double-doubles on the year, which ranked top 10 nationally and second in the league. Akhator also ranked top 10 nationally in total rebounds and top 20 nationally in field-goal percentage and rebounds per game. The senior scored in double figures 27 times with double-digit rebounds in 20 games.
During conference play, Akhator become only the second player in school history to score 24 or more points with 15 or more rebounds in consecutive games. Although she was only on campus for two years, Akhator ended her career tied for third in school history in double-doubles, second in all-time rebounding averaging, eighth all-time in scoring average and fourth in field-goal percentage.
The senior was brilliant in Kentucky’s two games in the SEC Tournament, averaging 23.5 points with 10.0 rebounds per game. In the quarterfinals against Alabama, Akhator had 23 points with nine rebounds and three assists, going 7-of-13 from the field and 9-of-12 from the free-throw line. She followed that performance with 24 points and 11 rebounds – including seven offensive boards – against No. 5 South Carolina. Akhator had a double-double in each of UK’s NCAA Tournament games with 22 points and 10 rebounds vs. Belmont and 14 points and a UK NCAA Tournament game record 23 rebounds against Ohio State.
Akhator’s strong senior season led her to be named All-SEC First Team by league coaches, All-SEC Second Team by the AP, WBCA All-Region and AP All-America Honorable Mention. The forward is a four-time SEC Player of the Week honoree and was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll last season.
Epps had a great senior season for Kentucky, averaging a team-best 17.7 points per game while sitting tied for the team lead with 118 assists. The senior ranked second on the team in 3-point field-goal percentage, while sitting third in overall field-goal percentage, rebounds per game and steals per game. Epps was the only player to end the regular season ranked top 10 in the SEC in points, field goal percentage and assists.
The native of Lebanon, Ky., ended her career with six games of 30 or more points, which is the third most in program history. Epps is the only player in school history to rank top five in career scoring and top eight in career assists. The explosive guard scored in double figures 30 times her senior year, including 14 games with 20 or more points. Epps finished her career with 1,790 total points, averaging 13.5 points per game with 408 career assists for 3.06 assists per game – all numbers that rank top 10 in program history.
Epps posted a season-high 31 points with nine rebounds and three assists against No. 5 South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and continued her strong postseason play in the NCAA Tournament first round against Belmont with 30 points and five assists. The guard posted 21 points with four assists in the second round against Ohio State.
Epps ends her career as one of two players in program history to be named an All-SEC First Team honoree (league coaches/AP) three straight seasons. She was also a three-time SEC All-Tournament Team selection and three-time AP All-America Honorable Mention. Epps was a two-time WBCA All-Region selection and two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member.