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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.