Car accident left mental scars for Makayla Epps

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 22, 2014 

  • No. 15 Kentucky at No. 16 Texas A&M

    When: 2 p.m. Sunday | Records: UK 19-7 (7-6 SEC); Texas A&M 21-6 (11-2) | Series: UK leads 2-1 | Last meeting: Texas A&M won 75-67 in 2013 SEC Tournament | TV: ESPN2 | Radio: WLAP-AM 630

  • Lineups

    NO. 15 KENTUCKY

    Starters: Bria Goss, 5-10, Jr., G (9.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Kastine Evans, 5-9, Sr. (9.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Janee Thompson, 5-6, So., G; (9.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.2 apg); Samarie Walker, 6-1, Sr., F (9.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg); DeNesha Stallworth, 6-3, Sr., F (11.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

    Key reserves: Jennifer O'Neill, 5-6, Jr., G (13.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.0 apg); Azia Bishop, 6-3, Jr., F (5.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Makayla Epps, 5-10, Fr., G (3.9 ppg); Linnae Harper, 5-8, Fr., G (6.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5-7, Sr., G (4.0 ppg); Jalleah Sydney, 6-2, Jr. (3.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

    NO. 16 TEXAS A&M

    Starters: Courtney Walker, 5-8, So., G (14.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.7 apg); Jordan Jones, 5-6, So., G (6.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Achiri Ade, 6-1, Jr., F (7.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg); Courtney Williams, 6-1, So., F (13.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg); Karla Gilbert, 6-5, Sr., C (11.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg).

    Key reserves: Tavarsha Scott-Williams, 6-0, Jr., F (2.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Curtyce Knox, 5-7, Fr., G (3.7 ppg, 2.5 apg); Tori Scott, 5-10, Jr., G (6.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg); Rachel Mitchell, 6-7, So., C (1.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg).

  • SEC standings

    Conf. All

    South Carolina 12-1 24-2

    Texas A&M 11-2 21-6

    Tennessee 10-3 21-5

    Kentucky 7-6 19-7

    Vanderbilt 7-6 18-8

    LSU 7-6 18-8

    Florida 7-6 17-9

    Georgia 6-7 18-8

    Missouri 5-8 16-10

    Auburn 5-8 14-12

    Alabama 5-8 12-14

    Arkansas 4-9 17-9

    Mississippi St. 4-9 17-10

    Mississippi 1-12 10-17

    Sunday's games

    Florida at South Carolina, 1 p.m.

    Tennessee at Missouri, 2 p.m.

    Kentucky at Texas A&M, 2 p.m.

    Arkansas at LSU, 2 p.m.

    Mississippi at Miss. St., 3 p.m.

    Georgia at Auburn, 3 p.m.

    Alabama at Vanderbilt, 4 p.m.

When Makayla Epps is playing hard, she almost always has a huge grin on her face.

While careening toward the basket or throwing her body to the floor for a loose ball, it's almost always with a smile.

That was the Epps on the court at DePaul, where she had 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in the Cats' big road win on Dec. 12.

That's the last time Kentucky's freshman guard remembers feeling like herself out there, feeling OK.

Two days later, Epps was sitting on the side of the Bluegrass Parkway feeling lucky to be alive after the car she was in flipped eight times.

"I'm 18 years old and almost died," she said quietly nearly two months later. "It shook me up real bad."

The next day, nursing some bumps and bruises and a diagnosed neck strain, she played well in UK's game against East Tennessee.

Everything was fine, she told herself. The car was totaled. And her friend who had been driving had to have surgery to repair her hand.

Everything was fine.

She repeated it over and over, trying to convince herself and concerned friends and family.

But everything was not fine.

"It was always on my mind," she said. "Even in practice, I've been thinking about it, just always thinking about it."

For nearly a month, it seemed as though Epps were somewhere else, UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said.

"I just think that really shook her up badly, even more than we realized at the time," he said on Friday, previewing No. 15 Kentucky's trip to No. 16 Texas A&M (21-6, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) on Sunday.

"She basically went a month there where she was just sort of in a fog."

The smiling, aggressive, court-savvy Epps was lost in that fog.

"Physically, she was OK," Mitchell said of the Kentucky Miss Basketball, who at this time last year was leading Marion County to an undefeated season and a Sweet Sixteen championship.

"When she's really acting normal and herself, she's full of energy, but she was just really not herself there for almost a month in the middle of the season, which caused her to not have good practices."

It meant a lot of games with zeroes on the stat sheet for Epps.

The guard who was averaging 5.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists before the accident had seven straight games without scoring a point.

Everything changed after that accident.

"It had a lot of mental effects on me," Epps said Friday. "That wasn't something that was easy for me: To basically keep on living life and acting like it never happened.

"I tried not to let it cause problems on the court and how I played. But it was something that held me down for a little bit."

Epps started talking to a counselor, which has "helped tremendously," she said. "I'm just looking at life from a totally different perspective because of the accident."

It's helped her appreciate the joy and freedom she has on the basketball court.

And even though Kentucky lost on Thursday to No. 4 South Carolina, Epps felt like herself again on the floor. She hit six of her eight shot attempts and scored 16 points against the Gamecocks, five more points than she's had in her 12 other SEC games combined.

She woke up on Friday morning with sore legs and arms.

It was a good sore.

"I hadn't been that sore since I played in high school because I hadn't played like that in forever," she said. "Even though we lost, it was good to get out there and just play."

Mitchell was happy to see Epps on the floor, smiling as she made plays.

He hopes Kentucky (19-7, 7-6) gets that kind of play from the McDonald's All-American the rest of the season, the rest of her career.

"Thank goodness she finally worked her way through that," he said. "So, for the last three weeks she's really practiced well and she has a chance to be a really good player."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service