Ken Epperson was an unsung recruit from Louisville when he arrived on the University of Toledo campus in 1981. When he left, he had scored more points (2,106) and grabbed more rebounds (960) than any player in Rocket history. Those records still stand. T
It was just like the good old days, the gym rocking and the University of Toledo rolling.
If an observer had lived under the earth for the past 32 years and was just making his first trip back to Savage Arena for the Rockets’ 78-58 dusting of Kent State on Saturday, he could have closed his eyes and stepped back in time.
“Like when I was here playing,” said one such spectator in the eighth row of Section 108.
Ken Epperson then smiled.
“And the great thing about it is Jacob gets to see it and experience it,” he said.
Which is where this story gets very interesting.
Jacob is not only the son of a Rockets basketball legend, the school’s all-time leader in points (2,106) and rebounds (960). He could be the next one.
The 18-year-old Australian, you see, is an almost overnight phenom rated among the top high school recruits in the nation.
Jacob is a 6-foot-11, 200-pound center playing his senior year at an Indiana prep school after growing up in Melbourne — where his dad settled after a brief professional career in Australia. The young man has his pick of big-time basketball schools. Purdue and Illinois have offered scholarships. So have Texas and Texas A&M and Oklahoma and a dozen other suitors.
The four-star Epperson is billed by Scout.com as the No. 57 prospect in the 2017 class. The two guys ranked right behind him? They’re committed to Duke and Kansas.
Epperson could be that good.
And did we mention he is considering Toledo?
“They have a pretty decent shot,” the younger Epperson said. “It’s Dad's old school, so I might want to follow in his footsteps and break his records.”
“Of course, I’d get them all,” he said with a laugh.
Does Toledo really have a shot? It is hard to say. Epperson’s recruiting visit Saturday might prove little more than a courtesy, a nod to his dad’s roots, where the affection remains mutual.
The crowd gave the elder Epperson — back in Toledo for the first time since playing here from 1981-85 — a minute-long standing ovation when he was honored during a break in the first half. Epperson, in turn, stocked up on Rockets gear at Rocky’s Locker before the game and cheered on his alma mater throughout the rout.
Maybe the Rockets are dreaming. Heck, they probably are. Jacob also plans to visit Creighton, Utah, and Texas, and surely they’ll make a good impression, too.
But sometimes, you have to swing for the fences.
Jacob Epperson, for all of his gifts, just might be within reach for the Rockets.
Beyond his family connection, one major selling point is immediate playing time. Though Epperson is athletic and instinctive with a nice stroke — the kind of player who can change the trajectory of a program — he knows he must pack on a ton of muscle and weight to his rail-thin frame. He would be a strong redshirt candidate at a bigger program.
“Coach [Tod Kowalczyk] has talked to him about his development, his ability to come out here and play his freshman year, just the same as mine,” Ken said. “He wants to go to a school where he's going to develop and where he's going to play.”
It also doesn’t hurt Toledo that Epperson just crashed the American hoops scene, though, truth be told, the secret got out quickly. Since enrolling at La Lumiere Academy — a nationally ranked prep school about 30 miles west of South Bend — Epperson has gained the exposure he sought and then some.
Ken called his son’s recruitment ”off the hook.”
In other words, a little different from his own.
Back in 1981, Ken, a 6-foot-6 forward from Louisville, was courted by a couple smaller local schools and a persistent young Rockets assistant named Greg Kampe, now in his 33rd year as the head coach at Oakland University.
“I was just happy to have a scholarship,” he said. “With Jacob, you can be on the phone from 8 in the morning until 10 at night just talking to different coaches every day.”
Where Toledo fits in remains to be seen, but Ken, too, said the Rockets are right in the mix. It might even be more than his heart talking. He wants the best fit for his son, not necessarily the brightest lights.
“And have a look at this facility,” he said. ”It’s just amazing. This place has transformed. It's sensational. There were great facilities when I was here, but it's even better now.”
Ken knows better than most that it’s the kind of stage where you can be a star.
“Coach K says that he’ll try to work it around me,” Jacob said. ”He’ll try to develop me as a player and get me as far as I can.”
As far into history as dad?
“Yeah, I think he could,” Ken said of his son snatching away his records. ”He told me he could break my blocked shots record in about half a season his freshman year. He does so many things that I couldn’t even think about.”
Epperson THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON