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By LARRY VAUGHT
Angela Mattingly says her daughter, Miss Basketball Makayla Epps of Marion County, enjoyed everything about the McDonald’s All-American Game. Epps, a Kentucky signee, had 13 points in the game.
“She is an amazing player,” said McDonald’s All-American Linnae Harper, another UK signee. “I can’t wait to play with her next year.”
Epps enjoyed mingling with the other great players from across the nation — as did her two brothers.
Epps and her mom shared a few photos with vaughtsviews.com for readers/UK fans to also enjoy.
By LARRY VAUGHT
CHICAGO — As she was growing up, Makayla Epps says her father was both hard and loving when it came to basketball.
“He lets me be me and don’t force me to do nothing I don’t want to do. He supports me, but as a coach he gets in me a little bit,” said the Marion County senior.
Sh played in the McDonald’s All-American Game Wednesday night at the United Center and her father, former Kentucky standout Anthony Epps, was among those here to watch her. She had 13 points (5-for-8), three rebounds and one assist in 15 minutes for the losing East team.
“This is all about fun and showing what you can bring to the table for your college team,” said Epps, a Kentucky signee, after the game. “I scored 13 points, and I am real happy about that. I was nervous at first. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t deserve to be here, but I did well against some of the best players in the country.”
Her only problem came when her father, who was sitting behind the bench, yelled a few times wondering why she was not in the game. She said he didn’t under the game’s substitution rules.
Like her, he led Marion County to a state championship. He then played on a national championship team at UK, something Makayla Epps also hopes she can do.
“I have never seen full clips of games with or 1996 team’s games. I have been on YouTube and seen short clips of certain big games and big shots or them winning the championship, but not actual games with him,” she said. “People tell me he was one of the best point guards ever to come through Kentucky and he led them to the 1996 title and without him it might not have happened because he was the floor general on the floor and stuff like that.”
Anthony Epps is now an assistant coach on the Marion girls team under Trent Milby and was part of Marion’s perfect season that culminated with the state championship.
“I think she is a little bit more of a scorer than Anthony was (in high school). I think she will score more in college than Anthony did. I tell her all the time she is better in high school than Anthony was and going to the McDonald’s All-American Game proves that. But IQ-wise on the basketball court, they are both very, very smart,” Milby said.
Marion High School principal Stacey Hall says Makayla Epps is now the bigger name in the county because of the career she had that produced over 3,300 points.
“Anthony is a great guy and I have a lot of respect for Anthony. It built up and built up, but now Makayla is the bigger name. When she switched (her verbal commitment) from Louisville to UK, she sort of replaced him. Everybody knows coach Epps, but more follow Makayla now and what she does,” Hall said. “Like he said, he is now known as Makayla’s father because she has become such a great person and player.”
Makayla Epps says fans tell her “all the time I am a lot like him” when they talk about her play compared to her father’s style.
“He could see the floor and I see the floor great. He can shoot better than me, but I can shoot a little bit. We are so similar on the court that people say it is crazy,” she said. “We are both very competitive. He is a winner. Got (championship) in high school, got (championship) in college. Now I got one in high school and hope to get one in college. I have been competing with boys since I was younger. That drives me. If I can do it against the boys, I can do it against the girls. So the competitiveness has always been there in me just like it was him.”
She was born while her father was playing at Kentucky and he carried her in his arms at midcourt on his Senior Day.
“She had on a little cheerleader outfit then, but to see her grow into the young lady that she is now. She is so humble. She just makes me proud and her mom is as proud, too,” Anthony Epps said.
“People see me in that cheerleading outfit and say I would not be an athlete. Being out there with Dad was kind of like a foreshadowing because now I will play at Rupp, too,” she said.
Her father admits it was not easy having a child in college for him or her.
“Everybody is going to have their ups and downs as a parent and being in college and raising a daughter makes it even harder. I tried to do the best I could,” he said. “I am not going to say I was a perfect father because I wasn’t. No matter anything I ever done, she knows that I love her and it don’t matter what no one else says. She lives with her mom, but she knows I love her and will always be her father. You can’t take that bond away that we have.”
That was never more clear to him than when he lost his job as Marion head boys coach because of a DUI arrest.
“It was very difficult for me because of the way people talk. You have to stay humble and keep believing in who you are, and that’s what I did,” Anthony Epps said. “But when I went through that trying time and got the DUI and I knew it hurt me, but it hurt my kids more. That really got me down, but to get a text from her telling me that she still loved me and all that and always would be there for me. That meant more to me than anybody out there can say.
“My kids didn’t get down on me and looked at me as the same as before. I made a mistake. Mistakes happen. I made it, grew from it and I am moving on with my life and glad to have her and my other kids backing me up. She’ll never know what that meant to me.”
She’s not worried about trying to match her father’s exploits and/or name at Kentucky.
“It is a male-female thing. Dad was 20 years ago and now I am the present. Not as much pressure. I am going to go up there and hopefully keep the name to where it needs to be. Wearing his number (at UK) means a lot to me and him both, but I don’t think there is a lot of pressure. I am going to go in there and handle it,” Makayla Epps said.
“The humbleness is what he always talks about. He says stay humble and it will serve you in the long run. Just his on court personality and off court personality was that way. Don’t try to draw too much attention to yourself. Just stay calm and humble about everything. He made sure I knew that.”
She’s quickly realized since Marion ended its unbeaten season with the state title what kind of presence she has with youngsters.
“Being at the state (tournament) games kids came up to me asking to take pictures and autographs and stuff. That goes to show I am a huge role model to other kids not even from Marion County,” Makayla Epps said. “Then we did an autograph signing (in Lebanon) and kids were running up and asking for autographs and pictures. That means a lot. Kids are always tweeting me and texting me and telling me I am their role model and they want to be like me and how can they be like me. It all means a lot to me.
“That’s why it was important to play well here. I didn’t want to feel like I let anybody down with how I did because I knew everybody back home would be watching and pulling for me.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
CHICAGO — After she failed to make the USA Basketball tryout roster, Marion County’s Makayla Epps figured she had no chance to be a McDonald’s All-American.
“I thought maybe I just wasn’t good enough and when I did get picked, it meant so much to me. Knowing I get this opportunity means the world to me,” said Epps.
She’s here now to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game Wednesday (7 p.m. on ESPNU) at the United Center.
“I know a lot of the players. I have seen them in AAU tournaments and their names are real big out there,” Epps said. “You have players on North Carolina, Duke and Notre Dame. I am going to be out there with the best of the best. It is exciting.
“Just the game itself at the United Center is special. Derrick Rose (of the Chicago Bulls) is my favorite player, so I will be out there playing where he played at. Then going to the Ronald McDonald House was a great thing to do, too.”
Epps, a 5-10 point guard led Marion to a perfect 39-0 record and Marion’s first state tournament title in eight appearances. Epps averaged a team-high 23.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 steals and 5.5 rebounds per game. She also was named the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year and is a three-time All-State honoree who scored over 3,300 points in her prep career. She was also named Kentucky’s Miss Basketball.
“She is a true leader. She is one of those students that crosses all sub-groups in the school. It is not like she is just strictly an athlete or in that clique. All the kids know Makayla and she has relationships with all the kids,” Marion High School principal Stacey Hall, a former high school coach, said.
“It does not matter who they are. She is that one student if you know there is something going on and you just talk to Makayla, she will help you out to either solve the problem, stop the problem or give you information that will help us get to the root of the problem. She is one of those people who is going to be sorely missed from the standpoint of leaderships. She goes all the way across the board to kids who look up to her and she is friends with them.”
Marion hung a banner in the gym recognizing her being the school’s first McDonald’s All-American during a sendoff ceremony to Chicago for her last week.
“I have learned in seven years that Marion County has a very supportive fan base and great history. It just solidifies the legacy she has here and one-upping her dad (Anthony Epps) and getting out of his shadow and the great player and competitor he was by being part of the McDonald’s game,” Hall said. “As long as this school stands, she will always be the talk of this community along with this team. We are seeing history being made with her.”
Her father also helped Marion win a state title and was a starter on Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team. His daughter, who originally gave a verbal commitment to Louisville, signed with the Wildcats in November.
“She is laid back. I really truly believe she would rather be at Panama City Beach (Fla.) with her friends and enjoying the beach, but I think once she realizes being with these other great players and doing all these events they have planned let’s her see what being a McDonald’s All-American is all about,” Anthony Epps, one of many Marion fans expected her for Wednesday night’s game, said. “To be in history with some of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball is really special and that will eventually sink in for her.”
Marion head coach Trent Milby believes his star understands the value of being in this game.
“She loves basketball, so she knows who has played in McDonald’s games. She is very smart IQ-wise about the game,” Milby said. “She is a big deal in Marion County already. She won a state championship. They know she is good and probably the best this county has ever seen or will and they are proud of that.”
Hall expects a lot of Marion fans who can’t come to Chicago will be watching the game on ESPN to support Epps.
“Not only the kids in the high school, but the smaller kids, the teachers across the district. She has connections with all of them. Everybody will watch to show their support,” Hall said. “Of all the players I have ever seen, she is one of the best. She is the best girls player I have ever seen and I would put her up against any guy that I have seen, and I’ve seen a lot of good ones. She is just special. She knows how to play the game and she has got better in the seven years I have known her every year. She’ll do great in this game.”
Anthony Epps appreciates all the good things in Marion and across the state have said about his daughter.
“The highest compliment you can get as a parent is to have people tell you she is a sweet daughter and she is this and she is that outside of basketball,” Anthony Epps said. “People come up to me all the time saying that. A lot of people who have not seen her ask me what type person she is and I tell them once you meet her, I will let you make your own judgment.
“But to me she is a wonderful young lady and I can’t ask for a better child. She is an excellent role model for her younger siblings as well because they look up to her and really love her. It’s truly a blessing to have a daughter like her and I am so proud she’s playing in this game.”
So is Milby, who says 10 years from now he’ll still recall how special she was.
“I will always remember how good she was, how skilled she was and how good she was in the open floor,” Milby said. “She is so strong that people just bounce off her. In 10 years she will still be the best guard Kentucky has ever seen. All I had to do was just give her the ball. You never had to worry about getting the ball up the floor.”
He’ll also remember how she interacted with teammates despite the numerous accolades she received.
“They all respected each other. Makayla knows she needed those others to do what she is doing. She was one of them. The chemistry was great. They could care less about points, steals and rebounds. They just went out there to win and she was one of them all the way,” Milby said.
Dominique Hawkins of Madison Central and Makayla Epps of Marion County both led their teams to state championships, both have now been named the state’s top players and both may well end up playing at Kentucky.
They were named Mr. Basketball and Miss. Basketball Friday night in Louisville by the sponsoring Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation.
Now Epps, who scored over 3,300 points, will be off to Chicago to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday while Hawkins heads to Florida for spring break and awaits word on whether he’ll get a scholarship offer from UK coach John Calipari.
Kentucky signee Derek Willis of Bullitt East went into the season as the Mr. Basketball favorite and had a splendid season, but Hawkins was sensational in March — including three games at the state tourney when Calipari watched himplay.
He scored a school-record 2,453 points in his career and averaged 20 points, five rebounds and three assists per game.
Hawkins had hoped to find out Friday if UK would offer, but that process was put on hold even though Calipari visited him earlier in the week. He has offers from South Carolina, Purdue, Morehead and Western Kentucky.
Epps, a guard just like Hawkins, signed with UK after originally giving Louisville a verbal commit. She averaged 23 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists this season to help Marion got 39-0.
She beat Duke signee Becca Greenwell of Owensboro Catholic and teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, another UK signee, to be named Miss Basketball.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEBANON — The first time Trent Milby saw Makayla Epps play was when she was in the sixth grade, but even then the Marion County basketball coach knew he had a special player headed his way.
“You could tell then she would be a special player,” said Milby Tuesday. “She’s by far the best guard ever to come through the state of Kentucky.”
She turned out so special that she led Marion to an undefeated season and state championship this season and is one of the frontrunners to be named Miss Basketball this weekend after averaging 22.8 points, 4.8 assists, 4.3 steals and 4.2 rebounds per game this season. She finished her prep career with over 3,300 points.
She was also named a McDonald’s All-American, the first in school history, and was honored during a send-off celebration and pep rally at the high school Tuesday. Epps, who will play at Kentucky, leaves Saturday for the April 3 game at the United Center in Chicago.
Epps cried several times during her remarks in the high school gymnasium in front of teammates, students and fans. She thanked her teammates, parents, brothers and coaches before crying and then even thanked all the students and the pep band for their support.
“This truly is a blessing,” she told the assembly. “I never thought about going to Chicago. I was planning on going to Panama (City Beach, Fla.). I was going to the beach (for spring break).”
Instead, she’ll now be playing against the nation’s best prep talent in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.
“It was emotional. This would have never happened without my teammates and then the fans being there to cheer me on and the coaching staff and parents, it just got to me,” she explained after the ceremony about how she lost her poise, something she never did on the court.
“I am nervous about the game because I have to fly there by myself. I have flown plenty of times, but not just by myself. I am more nervous about flying by myself than any game I have ever played in.”
During the ceremony a banner was unveiled that will hang from the gym rafters declaring her a McDonald’s All-American. There’s already one there in honor of her father, Anthony, a starting point guard on UK’s 1996 national championship team. He was also on Marion’s 1993 state championship team.
“That banner was a total surprise to me. That means a lot to me,” she said. “I had no clue and to have that go up there with his from Kentucky and me having a McDonald’s All-American banner is something. Most families can’t get one (banner)and now we have two. That means lot.”
So did the banner students, teammates and fans signed wishing her good luck.
“This is crazy,” she said.
No one enjoyed the ceremony more than her father, an assistant coach for the women’s team who says he is proud now to be known as “Makayla Epps’ dad” because of her exploits.
“Everybody wants her to follow in my footsteps. She has one out of the way winning a state title,” Anthony Epps said. “Now she will be going to Kentucky to try and win a national title. But I told her, ‘Just be Makayla. Don’t worry about being Dad. This is your time. Go there, enjoy it and live it up.’ And she did one up me by being a McDonald’s All-American. I didn’t get that.
“However, the big award (Miss Basketball) is Friday. If she does not get Miss Basketball, it will be a travesty. She is the best player I’ve seen. She is special. I have watched her play and demeanor, and she is just special in girls basketball. I know I am her dad, but that’s just the way it is.”
* * *
Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster or charge-by-phone at 1-866-909-GAME. Net proceeds from the games will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities®. Since 1978, the games have raised more than $10 million for RMHC. All 48 players will have a chance to visit a local Ronald McDonald House® during Game Week in Chicago.