A longtime Knoxville sports radio personality apologized Wednesday for disparaging remarks he made about Kentucky star Makayla Epps this week on his show.
The morning after the Cats’ 64-63 comeback victory over Tennessee in Memorial Coliseum, WNML “Sports Animal” host Jeff Jacoby went on a rant about Epps, who scored 14 points in the third quarter to help UK get back in the game.
Within the rant, Jacoby said to his co-hosts that Epps is “one of those players that if she plays for you, you love her, and if she plays for the other team, you just want to put your fist through her face.”
The self-proclaimed “Tennessee homer” on the four-hour sports talk show told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday that he made a mistake.
“It was a very poor choice of words to get the point across,” Jacoby said in a phone interview, noting that this was the first major controversy he’d had in nearly 40 years in the business.
“She’s a very self-assured player and she’s very good at what she does and I used a very poor choice of words to say what I was trying to get across.”
When Jacoby saw a series of tweets from Epps’ father, Anthony, about not taking kindly to comments about Makayla, Jacoby said he reached out to the former men’s basketball star at Kentucky to apologize.
“I don’t blame her father for being upset,” Jacoby said. “I probably would’ve reacted the same way it if it was my daughter. I just wanted to make sure I very quickly put that out there to him and to her.”
Jacoby said that earlier in the show he compared Epps to a Pete Rose-type player.
She’s a very self-assured player and she’s very good at what she does and I used a very poor choice of words to say what I was trying to get across.
Jeff Jacoby, Knoxville radio host
“She’s a very confident player and when she’s putting it to you, it gets under your skin,” he said. “That’s part of it. She’s the kind of player you love to have when she’s playing for you.”
In his news conference to preview No. 12 Kentucky’s game against Vanderbilt on Thursday night, Coach Matthew Mitchell said UK and Epps accept Jacoby’s apology.
“It was a poor choice of words, and I think all of us need to be aware of what we are saying, certainly if we are in the media and in the public and talking about kids and young people,” Mitchell said Wednesday afternoon.
“There are so many issues in sports right now with violence in particular, so with all of that, you have to be really aware of what you’re saying. And we are appreciative of the apology and we are moving forward.”
Thompson getting limited reps
Kentucky has been limiting Janee Thompson’s practice time this week as she comes back from an ankle sprain at Ole Miss, but Mitchell said he expects that the senior guard will play Thursday night versus Vanderbilt.
Just four days after spraining her left ankle, Thompson turned in a tough performance against Tennessee, scoring 15 points, including Kentucky’s final five points.
“She looked really strong in the game,” Mitchell said of Thompson, who is wearing a boot around campus to keep the ankle supported. “The jumper to take it from 59-57 to 61-57 was just amazing. That was a really strong play.”
Thompson played 30 minutes Monday against the Lady Vols and didn’t have any significant swelling, her coach said.
Attitude change equals minutes for Jakubcova
For the first time in five games, forward Ivana Jakubcova played in a game, earning seven minutes against Tennessee on Monday night.
It wasn’t because of matchups or a lack of depth, though. It was because of a change in the junior-college transfer’s attitude at practice, Mitchell said.
“She is a wonderful person, but her attitude had gotten very negative and she was not performing and wasn’t doing anything in practice,” he said of her five-game benching. “So I am not playing a person that does nothing in practice.”
After having a one-on-one discussion with her, Mitchell said she started to do the things coaches were asking her to do at practice.
“She finally got on the floor and stopped the, ‘woe is me,’ and ‘this is all happening to me and I have no role in this and Coach won’t play me,’ and negative, negative rain cloud” behavior, he continued.
Against Tennessee, the junior from Slovakia missed her one shot attempt, but got a key rebound. It was her first time on the floor since the Jan. 3 game at Auburn.