Four years ago, Makayla Epps was the daughter of a former Kentucky basketball player who happened to be a four-star recruit out of Marion High School in Lebanon, Kentucky.
Now, Epps is projected by DraftSite.com to go as the 13th WNBA pick to the San Antonio Stars. Just before teammate Evelyn Akhator is projected to go 14th to the New York Liberty. She’s the leader of a Kentucky team that was in shambles last April and had to have tryouts to fill two spots on the roster. She never gave up and kept fighting for a team, and state, that she loves.
Epps wears 25 on her jersey, the same number her father did in his tenure at Kentucky, but has managed to make it her own and become the face of Kentucky Women’s Basketball. But regardless of how good your dad is, if he’s a Kentucky basketball player, it’s going to be hard to separate yourself from that.
So how did she do it? How did the daughter of a player for one of the most successful basketball programs in history step out of her fathers shadow?
She didn’t leave
When Matthew Mitchell lost all of his coaching staff, the departure of seven players and two commitments Epps could have flown the coup, but she didn’t. The senior stayed and fought for her team to be a competitor this season against all odds. Many players went to more dominant programs, Alexis Jennings went to South Carolina and Batouly Camara went to UCONN, and Epps could have done just the same. Thankfully, she chose to stay and back the team she had spent the last three years building.
“I had people asking me, ‘are you leaving, are you leaving’ and I said nah, I can’t leave the blue and white. I’m glad I stuck it out,” Epps said before the beginning of the season.
She’s a stone cold leader
Epps is this team’s Tyler Ulis. Each and every girl on the squad looks up to Epps and trusts her to lead them through thick and thin, and it’s apparent on the court. She’s the most vocal person on the court, always telling her teammates where they need to be on the court and calling out the plays. If someone misses a beat, Epps is right there telling them what they need to better the next time around – almost as if she’s an extension of the coaching staff. As a senior, Epps is on the floor more than anyone else on the team, averaging just over 35 minutes per game, and spends the entire time doing her best to help her team exceed.
“I’ve played more games for Kentucky than any other player on this team. I know the game, I know what it takes to win games, I know what it takes to compete in the SEC, and I know what it takes to be the top dog, ranked in the country type. I’m just being more vocal, my teammates respect me, I respect all my teammates. So when I say something, they stop and really listen,” Epps said.
She’s scored almost twice as many points as her dad
Anthony Epps may have helped the Cats score a national title in 1996, but in his four years from 1993-1997 he scored 881 points. Placing Epps at 75th on the all time scorers list for Kentucky Basketball history. His daughter, has almost doubled that having scored 1,664 career points for 5th best in program history. This season, Epps leads the team in points per game, averaging almost two more points than the next highest scorer at 16.9 ppg. Akhator has the second best average with 14.9 ppg. In fact, Epps has led the team in scoring each year since her sophomore year. In her sophomore year she averaged 14.9 ppg and her junior year she averaged 17 ppg.
It doesn’t take a national championship trophy to leave a mark at Kentucky. Fans have grown to love Epps, some even waited in lines reaching outside the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday to get her autograph. She’s a homegrown Kentuckian who has made her state proud. The farthest Epps has ever taken a team in the Sweet 16 but she will be remembered as one of the greatest women to ever wear the blue and white.