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By LARRY VAUGHT
He knows his daughter, Marion County standout Makayla Epps, is not looking for individual accolades, but Anthony Epps also knows being picked to play in the prestigious McDonald’s Al-American Game April 3 at the United Center in Chicago is a huge honor for her.
The game will feature the top 24 high school players from around will be see on ESPNU at 7 p.m. EST.
“It was a very proud moment for me when she found out she would be playing in this game,” said Epps, a Marion assistant coach and starting point guard on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team. “I know how hard she has worked and to see her rewarded like this for her work is just a blessing.”
Epps had a storied playing career at Marion himself that included a state championship. But he was not a McDonald’s All-American.
“She does have that on me now. But it makes me even prouder that she is becoming her own lady and person. She is somebody fans at the University of Kentucky are really going to enjoy watching,” Epps said.
Epps and teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers both signed with UK in November after changing their minds about earlier verbal commitments they had made to Louisville.
Epps, a 5-11 guard, will be joined in the McDonald’s All-American Game by Linnae Harper of Chicago, another UK signee. They will be two of seven McDonald’s All-Americans on the UK roster next season. Epps is ranked as a consensus top 25 players by recruiting services. She became only the 21st player in Kentucky ever to surpass 3,000 career points this year and her team is unbeaten going into Fifth Region play this week at Green County.
“Coach (Matthew) Mitchell is doing a great job bring top talent to Kentucky,” Epps said. “It’s tremendous compared to what it was when I played there. I would put his recruiting right up there with coach Cal (John Calipari) now. It is making for two great programs.
“My daughter keeps up the team and every time they play she is tweeting (on Twitter) and watching. She loves it. She is looking forward to going there and really trying to win a national championship, which is the right mindset for her to have.”
Makayla Epps is averaging about 24 points, five steals, five assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
“She could average more points, but she is so unselfish and loves to pass,” her father said. “She is just a special player, and I am not saying that because she is my daughter. I watch a lot of basketball and think she is one of the special players ever to come out of this state.
“She is having a better season than last year when she was coming off knee surgery and had picked up some weight and was not as explosive. Last summer she did a good job getting her body in shape and getting the knee healthy. This year she has been off the charts. I knew she would be good, but she has had a special year. She has done a lot of things against good teams that most players can’t do. It has been an honor for me to coach her the last two years and see her grow.”
Epps said the McDonald’s Game officials had been in touch with the Marion staff about her status and they found out about three weeks before the official announcement was made that she was being invited to play in the game.
“This doesn’t add any pressure at all for her. She is humble and has one goal — to win a state championship,” the Marion assistant coach said. “She has been close (to a state title) and feels like this is the year to get it. She is really focused on that.”
Epps isn’t sure what impact this could have on the Miss Basketball voting, but says he would split his vote between his daughter and Owensboro Catholic standout Rebecca Greenwell, a Notre Dame signee, and would have no problems with co-winners like Indiana had in 1987 when teammates Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones shared the honor.
“Both are very worthy of the award. Kentucky could not go wrong either way,” Epps said. “That’s why I would be fine with co-Miss Basketballs.”
Epps plans to make the trip to Chicago to watch his daughter compete with the nation’s best players.
“This is a big honor not just for her, but for her family. I’m going. Her brother, grandparents are going. It’s a big deal for everybody,” the former UK point guard said. “We want to go and show our support for her. I think there will be quite a few others from the community come and show their support and let everybody know how proud they are of her. A small town like this does not have many opportunities to have a player be a McDonald’s All-American. Everybody is so proud of her.”
He’s also looking to see five players — Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson — that will be playing for Calipari play also in Chicago.
“It will be a big thrill for me to see those guys before they ever get to Kentucky and put on that UK uniform and see what all the fuss is about with them,” Epps said. “I know they all have great talent, but sometimes great talent can struggle in college like UK has this year. I want to see what these new guys are going to be all about.”