In Part 1 of this series, we reviewed the fresh talent joining the squad this year. In this section, we'll examine our returning players, and see who stands out as the potential leadership Mitchell will need for this squad to make it to Tampa Bay.
Our sophomores this year include Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper.
Makayla Epps, daughter of beloved '96 Champion Anthony Epps had a challenging but ultimately successful freshman year at UK, playing in 34 of 35 games. A dangerous car wreck in December left Epps with only minor physical injuries but more serious mental scars. Makayla, who had been averaging 6 points a game prior to the wreck, played 7 straight games without scoring a single point. Working with her coaches and the counseling staff, Makayla worked her way back to fine form, exploding at just the right time in March. Her SEC tournament debut was a beauty, particularly the South Carolina game, where she delivered 10 points to help send UK to the Championship.
Makayla ended the season averaging 11.5 minutes and 4.6 points a game. Makayla had decent balance on overall shooting and free-throw shooting, but at 29% she has opportunities to improve her three-point stroke. Look for her game to get even stronger this year, especially with her Marion County teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers back on the court.
Linnae Harper, our highest ranked recruit of the 2014 club, had herself one heck of a year. Named to both the 2014 SEC All-Freshman team, as well as the SEC All-Tournament team, Linnae played in all 35 games. This Chicago native (and teammate of Janee Thompson, which is making me wonder what they put in the water at Whitney Young High School. Is FIERCE water soluble?) averaged 14.2 minutes and 6.9 points a game. Like Makayla Epps, Linnae had a fantastic SEC tourney debut, where she delivered double-digit points in every game.
Linnae's one weakness that stands out is her 56% free throw shooting. Her three point shooting isn't exactly a strength at 24% but given the choice I'll take the freebies every time.
Aside from our JUCO transfer Ivana Jakubcova, we have exactly one junior on the squad this year, but she has enough FIERCE for an army of players. Chicago native Janee Thompson may be 5'7", but she plays like she's 6'8". Janee started in 33 games last year, averaging 20.4 minutes and 8.6 points a game. Her offensive stats may not look pretty - less than 40% from the field, 26% from the three and 66% from the charity stripe, but don't kid yourself: this woman is a play-maker. Janee is an assist MACHINE, delivering 107 last year, and was tied for third in steals. Look for Janee to definitely step up her on-court leadership this season. I'm also hoping to watch her turn into a thief of the highest caliber, and make the SEC lose their minds trying to control her.
We have four seniors on this year's squad, each of which brings a unique blend of skills and speed to the court.
Azia Bishop: 6'3" forward from Toledo Ohio, who last year was our tallest player on the squad. Azia played in all 35 games, and started in 5. She led the team in blocks last season with 41, and averaged 15.8 minutes and 5.3 points per game.
If the basketball gods are kind, they'll grant me my wish list for Azia, all of which involves elevating her offense. Her overall shooting at 43% isn't bad, but someone that size is going to be fouled, and shooting 40.5% at the charity stripe is just flat out awful. I'd also love to see Azia elevate her rebound game, where last year she was a distant third (77) behind seniors Samarie Walker (134) and DeNesha Stallworth (109).
Jelleah Sydney: 6'2" forward from Queens, NY where she played alongside fellow senior Jennifer O'Neill at Saint Michael Academy. Jelleah played in all 35 games last season, and started in 2. Jelleah averaged 10.6 minutes and 3.3 points a game. She's one of the players who Mitchell brings in off the bench and does a quiet, steady job. With her size and speed I'd love to see her have a breakout senior season.
Bria Goss: 5'10" guard from Indianapolis, Bria started in 34/35 games last season, averaging 27.1 minutes and 10.2 points a game. Bria is also the #7 free throw shooter in the country, where she's currently hitting +90%. Fouling Bria is flat out stupid, and yet most teams just can't help themselves as Bria also leads the team in charges, having 30 whistled against the opposition last year
I'm looking for big things from Bria in her final season as a Wildcat. Bria was selected to participate in one of UK's annual service trips to Ethiopia and the leadership skills this trip always seems to bring out in our Wildcats is truly unbelievable.
Jennifer O'Neill: 5'6" point guard from the Bronx, NY. Anyone who has been in our game threads knows I am an unabashed fan of Jenny O'. Her junior year at UK included some truly mind blowing games, the biggest of which was her performance against Baylor in December when she delivered a mere 43 points - off the bench - to sink those pesky Bears. Jennifer also delivered an outstanding game performance against the Vols - 24 points in 29 minutes- to seal the Cats' first ever victory at Thompson-Boling Arena. For the total season, Jennifer averaged 24 minutes and 12.6 points a game.
My wish list for Jennifer can be summed up in a single word: CONSISTENCY. As good as she was last year, Jenny O' stands out as the player with the most untapped potential. If she truly steps up and leads this season, and doesn't overthink her role, her senior season could be the one where the Wildcats make that long-anticipated step into the upper echelon of basketball, and reach the Final Four.
So there we have it folks, your pre-season look at our 2015 UK Hoops squad. Is it Basketball Season yet????