By LARRY VAUGHT
Former University of Kentucky point guard Anthony Epps has a lot of reasons to watch the Wildcats — both the men and women — play this season. His daughter, Makayla, is a freshman at UK and is playing a variety of spots coming off the bench for Matthew Mitchell’s team after her record-setting career at Marion County. She is averaging 5.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game going into Sunday’s game with Grambling and shooting 47.9 percent from the field.
He also pays close attention to coach John Calipari’s team since he was the starting guard on UK’s 1996 national championship team and watched many of UK’s current freshmen play in events where his daughter also played.
Anthony Epps, who is now the girls coach at Marion, offered insights on his daughter, body language and more.
Question: How proud are you of Makalya and how she’s doing at Kentucky?
Epps: “I am very proud. She really worked hard to get where she is. Once she realized she could play at that level and she got set in her roles, she has settled down and played the type of game she is playing. I didn’t know where they would use her. I know coach (Matthew) Mitchell had mentioned he thought she was smart enough to play three or four positions, but I never expected her to be playing on the block like she has. But she has adjusted to it very well. She’s shorter than most players in the block, but she is just as strong as girls she is trying to post up. I told her she just had to look at the move as a chance to get more playing time.”
Question: Could that make her a better player in the long run when she goes back to being more of a perimeter player?
Epps: “I think it will down the road because when she is a junior and senior she will be more versatile and have played more positions. They may bring in another guard then and move her down to the post again. The good thing about it is if you put a small guard on her, she can take them to the post. If you put a big on her, she can get around them for a mismatch. It plays to Kentucky’s favor on the offensive end and on the defensive end they give her help knowing she is smaller than most people she guards.”
Question: How much did it scare you when she was involved in the automobile accident where the car flipped?
Epps: “My heart dropped. You fear the worst. When I got the chance to see her at the hospital, it eased a whole lot of my pain. Then I finally got myself together and went to look at the car and I just shook my head and felt blessed that both of them survived. The car was a total loss and if you see the car you would think there was nobody walked away from that. I have seen cars where people maybe just got tapped in the back and died and if you see this car you just feel blessed they walked away.”
Question: Is she enjoying this season or has she felt any pressure?
Epps: “I don’t think there is no pressure to her. The only pressure is she has is what she puts on herself to go out there and play good night in and night out to help her team win. She is not worried about rankings because she is doing what she loves and that’s playing basketball right now. She is having a ball.”
Question: Could the men’s team use a player with her toughness?
Epps: “I think the men’s team could probably learn a little bit from the ladies by watching how hard they work. The women play hard from the beginning to the end. I think the men play hard during spurts. If they get to where they can play hard the whole game, they will be really tough.”
Question: Have players changed so much that it takes longer to learn the college game and how to control your emotions?
Epps: “I just think a lot of it goes back to what they get away with in AAU ball. Kids get away with a lot. They make AAU ball almost for the kids to shine and get college coaches to come watch them and recruit them. College is a different game. It takes kids time to adjust. But the key is to have upperclassmen that can settle your young guys down. Look at Duke where (freshman) Jabari Parker is playing great, but he has some older guys that can take pressure off him. UK is a young team. The oldest guys that play are Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. You don’t have a Darius Miller, Terrence Jones or Doron Lamb to tell the young guys to calm down and do it this way and not your way.”
Question: Is too much being made about bad body language on this team?
Epps: “I think it is. Kentucky fans can get worried by seeing something too much and I think right now they are seeing too much body language and not enough hustle. If a kid was working his tail off and diving after loose balls and then showed a little body language after what they felt was a bad call, then I think the fans would adjust to it. But when you are not hustling and showing bad body language and acting the way you are acting, fans kind of get tired of it and want to see you grow up. You are not going to get every call. If they don’t believe it, watch some of the NBA players. If you want to go to the NBA, watch out LeBron James and Kobie Bryant interact during a game and that will help them out.”
Question: Is there still time for this team to really get rolling like many thought it would before the season started?
Epps: “I think it will take a while longer. Now that Cal has been able to practice as much as he wanted, guys are either going to get it or I think he will start using the bench for them to get it. Hopefully they will learn it and Kentucky can turn it on and get ready for March Madness.”