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Now a senior, UK hoops veteran point guard Makayla Epps relishes leadership role

By Kindsey Bernhard
Special to KyForward

Of the six returning players on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team this season, one has been there for more than three years, senior guard Makayla Epps.

Epps is one of three seniors and the only one who has played her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons at UK.

Makayala Epps is ready to lead the UK women's basketball team this season (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)

Makayala Epps is ready to lead the UK women’s basketball team this season (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)

“I’m the veteran,” Epps said. “I’ve played more games for Kentucky than any other player on the team. I know the game. I know what it takes to win games. I know what it takes to compete in the (Southeastern Conference).”

Through three seasons, Epps has averaged 12.1 points per game in 100 games, shooting 46 percent from the field and 30 percent from the three-point line.

Epps became the 31st player in program history to reach 1,000 points, third fastest under head coach Matthew Mitchell. Her 1,207 career points rank 19th all-time in UK women’s basketball program’s career scoring list.

Epps led the team in scoring as a junior, averaging 17.1 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the field. She recorded the second triple-down in program history with 21 points, 12 assists and 11 assists against Morehead State University.

After a historic junior season, Epps was named as a first-team All-America by CollegeSportsMadness.com and was named as an All-America Honorable Mention by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and Associated Press.

As the most seasoned player and captain on the team, Epps knows what her role will be this season: the leader. With six new players on the roster, Epps’ experience and knowledge of the game are going to be key to this team’s success.

“My teammates respect me, and I respect all of my teammates,” Epps said. “So when I say something they stop and really listen. If they have questions, they come to me.”

That includes the team’s two freshmen. A freshman going up against older players after a season as high school seniors can be intimidated. Freshman Jaida Roper said that Epps and senior Evelyn Akhator have been great to her, helping her become a better player.

“They always just try to make me, make me responsible for my actions,” Roper said.

Roper said that if she messes up during practice, Epps and Akhator are the first to remind her that mistakes are OK, and then advise her on what she could have done instead.

“Of course everyone makes mistakes, but they’re always giving me good advice on ‘next time you should do this’ or ‘next time look here instead’,” Roper said. “The advice they are giving me is just keep working hard and you’ll be fine.”

Epps knows that this season will be different from the previous three she’s played at UK. Adjusting to six new teammates and four new coaches is a challenge for any player.

This season will be difficult for this UK team no matter what the scoreboard reads at the end of each game. Off-season transfers and coaching changes will follow this team all season, but players have used the scrutiny and skepticism as motivation.

“I mean you know – a lot of people think we’re down and out, and a lot of people deem us as the underdogs,” Epps said. “But we work hard in here every day so when games to do come and we do play the teams that are doubting us, we can show that they were wrong for doubting us.”

The most important advice Epps told her teammates this season, “Just have fun.”

The “fun” will begin for real when Kentucky opens the season against Miami of Florida on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

Kindsey Bernhard is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky. She is from Fort Wright.

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