Makayla Epps got to participate in only three workouts with her new Kentucky basketball teammates this summer, but that time off could turn out to be exactly what she needed.
"We were really able to get her healthy and back up to full speed," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said of the Miss Basketball from Marion County. "She had a great summer because she got healthy."
The 5-foot-11 guard has been battling a sore left knee for more than a year, and she tweaked it this summer playing in the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star series.
Epps said she worried the nagging injury would set her back for college.
"I was feeling rough about that, knowing I couldn't participate over the summer," Epps said. "But the coaches kept keeping me positive about it and not letting me get to a negative state about it. I just kept working hard to get it back right."
The positive is that she has zero soreness in the knee for the first time she can remember. She also was able to do some hip and knee strengthening work.
"I'm feeling a lot better now," Epps said. "What it mainly needed was some rest."
That doesn't mean her conditioning fell off, though. Epps said she spent hours lifting weights, riding the stationary bike and running on UK's underwater treadmill among other things.
And it was nice to be around her new teammates, said Epps, who scored a school-record 3,321 points for Marion County. She led the Knights to a 39-0 record and helped them become the first unbeaten Sweet Sixteen champion since Marshall County in 1984.
Mitchell is convinced that with a fully healed knee, Epps could do big things for Kentucky this season.
"That kid, I think we still haven't seen her best," he said last week. "Now this is more of an opinion of mine, so it's not for sure, but I think that knee has been nagging her a little bit."
The Cats return all but one starter (albeit a huge one in star A'dia Mathies) from last season's NCAA Tournament Elite Eight team.
And UK adds two McDonald's All-American guards in Epps and Linnae Harper, as well as forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, who was Epps' teammate at Marion County.
With the addition of Epps and Harper, UK will have seven McDonald's All-Americans on the roster this season.
The three workouts she was allowed to participate in with her teammates had Epps eager for basketball season to start.
"I'm real excited," she said. "Getting up there and getting to experience a little bit of it this summer was great."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.