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Outside Influence : Long-Distance Connection Helps Epps Set Record

February 16, 1989|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Michael Epps was nervous the first time Eagle Rock High played the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in basketball this season.

Epps, an Eagle Rock forward, was just a few points away from establishing a school career scoring record and the home crowd was providing him with constant reminders.

"Fans kept yelling, 'three points to go, two points to go,' " Epps recalled. "I couldn't really concentrate. I'd shoot five-footers and miss the rim."

Epps, a 6-foot-3 senior, eventually found his range and scored 26 points in an Eagle Rock win to break Hugo Mendoza's mark of 892 set in in 1981-83.

Since then, the sharp-shooting senior hasn't missed a beat.

Last Friday, with only his team's record to think about, Epps scored a career-high 50 points in the rematch between the schools.

"I missed my first four three-point shots and after that I started hitting everything," said Epps, whose previous high was 35. "The guards just kept getting me the ball."

Epps finished 19 of 36 from the floor, including eight three-point baskets.

"I've never seen a kid shoot so quickly," Sherman Oaks assistant Ed Weathersby said. "You want him to dribble, because if he does that, at least you slow him down.

"He can stand three to four feet behind the three-point line and hit it easily. That's a layup, a 15-footer for that guy.

"You could see he was bred to shoot the ball."

Indeed, Epps is from a family long on basketball talent.

John Epps, Michael's older brother, averaged 19.3 points a game during his senior year at Eagle Rock in 1987 and was selected All-City Section and to The Times' All-Glendale team.

Tina Epps, his sister, was a two-time All-City player who averaged 23 points and 21 rebounds her senior year in 1986 and was twice named The Times' Glendale Player of the Year.

But where his siblings were physical, inside players, Epps has gained his reputation as an outside threat. Weighing just 165 pounds, he patterns himself after Arizona forward Sean Elliott and Indiana Pacer forward Reggie Miller, formerly of UCLA.

The perimeter is Epps' paradise.

"When he gets on a roll, nobody is going to stop him," Eagle Rock Coach Bill Whiting said. "A lot of teams have tried to throw a box-and-one defense at him."

Epps, however, has overcome the specialized defensive pressure. He averages 26.5 points for an Eagle Rock team that finished the regular season 12-10 overall and 8-5 in the Northeastern League of the City Section 3-A Division.

Epps also overcame some personal adversity this season.

In December, his father John Sr., died suddenly from a heart attack.

"I dedicated this season to him," Michael said. "He never really got to see me play in high school so I decided to play every game for him. I know he's proud of me right now."

Early in the season, Epps severely sprained his left ankle in a game against Marshall but continued to play even after aggravating the injury against Wilson, which won the league title.

Despite the setbacks, however, Epps has improved his game and become a more complete player.

"Last year, he was very one-dimensional," Whiting said. "All he did was score.

"This year, he has worked hard on his defense and his rebounding."

Epps averages 9.5 rebounds a game for the Eagles, who recovered from a slow start in league play to win six of their last seven games.

"At the beginning of the year, Michael was trying to do too much himself," Whiting said. "We talked it over and he finally realized that he was going to get his points no matter what and it was better from a team perspective to spread it around."

Epps is still demonstrative on the court, often throwing a fist into the air to fire up teammates.

But a change in his mental approach to the game has become evident to longtime Epps watchers.

"I've seen enough of Michael Epps to last a lifetime," said Wilson Coach Mario Cantu, who remembers Epps as a 135-pound ninth-grader. "He's changed, not so much physically as the way he handles himself on the court. He's matured emotionally."

After the season, Epps will undertake a weightlifting regimen in preparation for next season, which he said will probably be spent at a local college.

"You can never tell with kids," Whiting said. "Some of them really progress and some . . . lock out.

"But I think Michael has a lot of potential to go beyond where he is right now."

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