UK Women's Basketball

As Epps, Akhator await WNBA fate, Kentucky assistant coach has been go-to resource

Kentucky Wildcats' Makayla Epps (25) as UK lost to Ohio State 82-68 at Memorial Coliseum in the second round of NCAA on Sunday March 19, 2017 in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky Wildcats' Makayla Epps (25) as UK lost to Ohio State 82-68 at Memorial Coliseum in the second round of NCAA on Sunday March 19, 2017 in Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky’s seniors didn’t have to spend a lot of time learning about the WNBA.

They only had to walk upstairs and enter an office.

“Lin Dunn’s about all you need to know to learn everything you need to know,” UK guard Makayla Epps said of the first-year Cats assistant, a Hall of Fame coach with more than 15 years of professional experience.

So instead of stressing during the season about their futures, Epps and fellow senior Evelyn Akhator could ask WNBA questions any time they had them.

“We’d talk about what’s different in college and pros, the faster game, the 24-second clock, how we travel,” said Dunn about some of the questions she fielded during UK’s season.

Sometimes she’d answer the queries while the Cats flew around the Southeastern Conference on chartered planes.

That’s going to change in the WNBA, where the teams fly commercial.

“Welcome to the real world,” Dunn laughed.

She’s also been a valuable resource for some of the more important details like if the players need an agent, how to learn about playing overseas (where women’s players make their significant money) and getting academics in order before the WNBA Draft, which is Thursday night.

Dunn also has been a valuable resource for her old friends in the WNBA, who have questions about Epps and Akhator, neither of whom were among the 10 players invited to the draft in New York City.

The Kentucky assistant coach, who was head coach of the Indiana Fever from 2008-14 — winning a championship in 2012 — has fielded regular calls from people in the league wanting details on Epps and Akhator.

Dunn often relays that information to the Kentucky seniors.

“It’s helping Makayla and Evelyn that these coaches really know Lin much better than they know me and there’s a comfort level there that she’s not trying to promote a kid,” said UK Coach Matthew Mitchell, who has had three WNBA Draft picks.

“She’s giving them the straight up and down on it. It’s helping both of them.”

Unlike the NBA, where there are more mock draft sites out there than countries on the planet, there aren’t many for the WNBA.

The few that do exist project Epps and Akhator going either late in the first round (12 spots) or at some point in the second round of the three-round draft.

One site, draftsite.com has Epps going No. 13 overall (first pick of the second round) to the Connecticut Suns and then Akhator joining her there three picks later.

Womenshoopsworld.com did a pre-NCAA Tournament mock draft that had Akhator going at the end of the first round to the Minnesota Lynx and Epps two picks later to the New York Liberty.

“I’d rather them get picked lower if it’s the right kind of coach because there are no guaranteed contracts in the WNBA,” Mitchell said recently, noting that former players like Jennifer O’Neill fared better as free agents than some first-round WNBA Draft picks because of the league’s structure.

“It’s a very different league than the NBA,” he continued. “It’s helping us a lot that Lin is familiar with it. I see it as being very beneficial for us going forward.”

Dunn thinks that both Epps and Akhator can be difference-makers on WNBA rosters.

“They both had tremendous college careers, both unique,” Dunn said.

“Epps is what I call a power guard,” she said of the 5-foot-10 guard from Marion County, who led UK in scoring at 17.7 points with 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists this past season.

The WNBA Draft looks to be deep at the guard position this year, but Epps’ stature and power could help separate her from the group.

“There are a lot of guards, but they’re thin and slight,” Dunn said. “She’s thick and strong and physical. She can go inside and outside, post up. And she can guard a lot of different positions, which makes her unique.”

Dunn’s phone rang a little bit more after Akhator’s big game against Mississippi State late in the season.

The 6-foot-3 post player originally from Lagos, Nigeria, is a bit more unknown to WNBA types, but they like what they see.

“Evelyn has speed and her quickness and now that she’s added that ability to consistently make a 15-footer, it makes her even more valuable,” Dunn said.

Both will be waiting for their names to be called Thursday night during the WNBA Draft, which will be aired on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. The final two rounds begin at 8 on ESPNU.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Thursday

WNBA Draft

When: 7 p.m.

Where: New York City

TV: First round on ESPN2; second and third rounds on ESPNU

First pick: San Antonio Stars

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