Makayla Epps won’t be at Big Blue Madness this season.
Instead, Kentucky’s junior guard will be back at the team's practice facility working out.
Missing Madness, the Cats’ exhibition game and their season opener versus Rice on Nov. 13 are the final pieces of her suspension after an off-season incident in her hometown.
But more than that, they’re the final steps Epps has to take to prove to UK Coach Matthew Mitchell that she’s ready to take that next step and become a leader this season.
“She has been extremely positive and we have made some strides toward transformation and that’s what it’s about, her transforming as a person,” Mitchell told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday morning in a wide-ranging interview.
Epps got into hot water late in the spring for several alcohol-related charges stemming from an incident in Lebanon on April 12 at 1:48 a.m. when the point guard was found in a car with another female minor at a park. The alcohol charges were dismissed June 10 after she completed 20 hours of community service in Lebanon.
A few months later, Mitchell said Epps still was working her way back onto the team without disclosing terms of her suspension.
Many of the things that Mitchell was hoping to see from the Cats’ leading scorer last season have happened.
And then some.
“I’m so happy with the result so far,” he said. “She can’t ever rest on the success because that’s been her main problem, so I’m always cautious when I talk about Makayla because the total transformation has not happened, but we are moving in that direction.
“I’m optimistic that it will go well, and she’s not showing any signs that it’s not. She’s in charge of her actions and her decisions and what she does.”
Epps, who averaged 14.9 points and nearly three assists a game for Kentucky last season, did well in her classes this summer, was active in the community and had a positive overall attitude, Mitchell said.
Perhaps a byproduct of all of that is that the 5-foot-10 star is in the best shape of her life, Mitchell said.
“On the court, she’s a very different player,” he said. “She’s hustling much more. She’s been much more of a leader, talking. She’s in tremendous shape. I just can’t even believe it. She can run for days.”
Missing Madness and the season opener is about looking at the bigger picture.
“I didn’t suspend Madness to be mean; I’m trying to make it clear that really when that ball goes up in the air against Arizona State (the second game of the season), you’re the best player on the floor and you need to train that way and know you’re in good enough shape to be that,” he said.
The larger message to Epps, who is not available to the media, has been that she can be even better than she was a season ago when she was named a First Team All-Southeastern Conference selection.
“If she can keep her mind right, she is one of the best players in the country,” Mitchell said.