The transition from college to professional basketball is not an easy one, especially in the case of former University of Kentucky standout Makayla Epps.
However, the WNBA team that drafted Epps — the Chicago Sky — has made the transition a little easier for the rookie.
“They (her teammates) really just go the extra mile and help me whenever I have questions, when I’m having a rough day on the court, if I’m struggling on a play call, if I’m struggling to run the play,” Epps said. “They’re very supportive, and all that’s really appreciated from me and it’ll benefit me in the long run I feel like.”
Epps was drafted by the Sky in the third round in the 2017 WNBA Draft. Despite being the Sky’s fourth selection that night, Epps is the only remaining rookie on the roster.
Epps and two other rookies, first-rounder Tori Jankoska and second-rounder Shayla Cooper, made the season-opening roster, but when two of the Sky’s best players returned from overseas play, the team decided to waive Jankoska and Cooper and keep Epps.
“Makayla (Epps) was one that stood out and was able to keep her spot,” Sky assistant coach Carlene Mitchell said. “I think she understands that she’s in rare air, there’s not a lot of rookies that made rosters, especially someone that was drafted in the third round, so I think she’s just taken the approach everyday that she will do whatever it takes to help our team.”
While Epps said she pats herself on the back for being the only rookie on the roster, she knows she has to keep working hard if she wants to earn playing time, and on a roster with mostly experienced players, that’s difficult.
Epps has played in nine of the team’s 16 games, averaging three minutes of playing time while scoring 0.2 points per game. It’s a big difference from her averages of 36.3 minutes and 17.7 points her senior season at UK.
However, that doesn’t mean life is all bad for Epps. As a professional basketball player, Epps now makes a paycheck for playing the sport she loves, while getting to travel around the country.
“I spent my 22nd birthday in Los Angeles, I’ve traveled to Minnesota, San Antonio, Texas; places I didn’t expect to be traveling at age 22,” Epps said.
Epps also enjoys her current home in Chicago.
“The city is beautiful, I was down on Navy Pier for Fourth of July and that was just an incredible experience,” Epps said.
While life as a professional basketball player has been exciting, Epps still works hard to improve her game, a trait she did not leave behind at Kentucky.
I’m very grateful for the opportunity Coach Amber Stocks and the Chicago Sky gave me to be here in Chicago. It’s a beautiful city, I love being here, my teammates are great.
“She’s in the gym everyday, she’s a gym rat,” Mitchell said. “Whether she ... has to be on the practice squad with our male practice players, whether she’s just being on defense the entire practice, she’s just willing to do whatever it takes.”
That hard work paid off for Epps in a big way in the Sky’s most recent game on Saturday, when she scored her first career points. Up until that point, Epps had been 0-for-7 in her career. She put her hands on her head with happiness after seeing the ball drop through the net.
After this season, Epps plans on coming back to Lexington to finish two classes to complete her degree. After that, she plans on playing international basketball like many WNBA players do, but she has not yet finalized plans on where she will be playing.
Wherever Epps’ basketball career may take her, the lessons she’s learning as a rookie will help. And no matter how far she goes, no accomplishment will surpass achieving the goal she’s already met.
“It was always a childhood dream of mine (to play in the WNBA) and to fulfill that dream, I pat myself on the back,” Epps said.
Chris Leach: 859-231-1326, @chrisleach250
Chicago Sky vs. Dallas Wings
When: 12:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday
Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill.
Notable: Epps’ former UK teammate, Evelyn Akhator, plays for Dallas.
How to watch: The game will be streamed live on Twitter