A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ashley Scoby: Suspension of budding star Epps shows importance of accountability


By suspending his star player, UK Hoops coach Matthew Mitchell is demonstrating the kind of accountability that fans of college programs and professional leagues are calling for from their sports teams (UK Athletics Photo)

By suspending his star player, UK Hoops coach Matthew Mitchell is demonstrating the kind of accountability that fans of college programs and professional leagues are calling for from their sports teams (UK Athletics Photo)

 

Discipline versus on-court success: With Matthew Mitchell suspending star guard (and first-team All-Southeastern Conference member) Makayla Epps on Wednesday, the latest chapter of that debate has been laid with UK women’s basketball.
 

[widgets_on_pages id=“Ashley”]

It was a breakout season for Epps, who led the team in scoring with 14.9 points a game, including a 42-point performance against Mississippi State. But now, her off-the-court actions (alcohol related “transgressions” in April, according to Mitchell) will at least for a while overshadow her stellar year. Mitchell announced Epps’ indefinite suspension from the team on Wednesday, and said the suspension would include at least one game at the beginning of next season.
 

If nothing else, this will be a dark cloud hanging over Epps’ head until at least November, when she will sit out that game. In the meantime, Epps won’t participate in team activities until she “hit(s) some very strenuous and strict guidelines,” Mitchell said.
 

With Mitchell suspending the player who is all set to be the team’s star in the coming years, it’s yet another illustration of the delicate balance in college athletics between taking the next steps as a championship-winning basketball program and about instilling discipline. It comes just weeks after Mitchell suspended senior Azia Bishop from the Wildcats’ second-round NCAA tournament game against Dayton – a game that ended their season and Bishop’s career.
 

Some fans wondered if suspending Bishop during the NCAA tournament for a curfew violation was too harsh, especially for a senior whose time at UK was winding down (and which, thanks to Dayton, ended that day).
 

Will Epps being suspended for one early-season non-conference game make that much of a difference in Kentucky’s entire season? Doubtful. However, her room for error will be lower, meaning any future poor decisions could have much more on-court impact.
 

Did Bishop’s absence in the NCAA tournament possibly cost UK the chance to advance in the post-season? We may never know what kind of effect she could have had in that game. But these are the questions you live with when you run a program like Mitchell runs his.
 

[widgets_on_pages id=”Email Signup”]
 

“Right now our players are a part of the University of Kentucky and the women’s basketball program, and so it’s very, very important that we bring honor to the university and that we reflect well on the university as high-character people,” Mitchell said. “All of those things are really stressed. When we don’t meet that standard, it damages our team and our program and it takes away from what we can be.”
 

With those standards come punishments for transgressions. But what also comes is the news that the program’s four seniors are graduating this week. Two of them (Jennifer O’Neill and Bishop) will be the first in their families to receive a four-year degree. Keeping players on the straight and narrow, helping them grow as humans – as Mitchell says is his overarching goal at Kentucky – can lead to caps and gowns, maturity and success off the court.
 

Regardless of how the (relatively minor) disciplinary issues have affected Kentucky’s winning ways, one thing is for sure: Mitchell is demonstrating the kind of accountability that fans of college programs and professional leagues are calling for from their sports teams. The long-term effects on the court remain to be seen.
 

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a sports writer for KyForward.com. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will join Sports Illustrated magazine as a summer intern in June.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment