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10 > Image 10 of Basketball, 1996

Part of University of Kentucky Basketball Media Guides (Men)

1395 96 Outlook Backing up Delk at the point will he veteran MmI'TTITIHTH. The Marion County, Ky., native started the first six games at point guard last winter, and hecame a valuahle sixth man after Sheppard was moved into the starting lineup. Epps was a solid contributor, averaging 6.7 points in nearly 20 minutes of action per game. He was also the team's top free throw shooter, hitting 85.0 percent from the foul line. "Anthony has hecome very consistent," Pitino said. "And in the final two minutes, he's one of the hest players on the team." In the SEC Championship game last year, Epps came up with a crucial steal and two free throws in overtime to give the Cats a come-from-hehind victory over Arkansas, 95-93. Sheppard, a 6-3 guard, started the last 27 games a year ago, all at point. He was third on the team in assists with 89 and fourth on the squad in scoring, averaging 8.3 points per game. The high-flying guard Irom Georgia is now a douhle threat. "Jeff can play either position at guard lor us," Pitino said. "And he's one ot the most athletic players I've ever coached." But the junior from Peachtree City, Ga., will have to battle to retain a starting position this season. A host of other Cats are capable of playing the "swingman" role, including freshman ihhiiuihmhJB. Mercer was a highly sought-after recruit from Nashville, Tenn., who chose to play his senior season of basketball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, one of the top high school programs in the nation. The 6-7 guard-forward averaged 26.3 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game to earn the Ban/Naismith Male Prep Player of the Year Award, an annual honor given to the nation's top high school basketball player. He earned first-team Parade and McDonald's All-America recognition. But with a difficult offensive and defensive system to learn, can a freshman play right away for Kentucky? "He was blessed with maturity beyond his years," said Pitino, who battled Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina and others in recruiting Mercer. "Plus, he was one of the premier high school players in the nation last year." lillltliHiU'rilJiM. who saw limited action last year as a freshman, also returns to compete at shooting guard and small forward. But due to the number of players at those positions, Edwards, who was Pitino's MVP of the Italy trip, may be red-shirted this season. "You don't redshirt someone who can't help your team," Pitino said. "Al has the chance to sit out a season, work on his game, work on his grades, and improve his chances of earning a starting position and a shot at the NBA by the time he graduates." The 6-5 native of Miami, Fla., averaged 12.0 points per game overseas last summer, earning a starting position at small forward in the Cats final game, a 115-86 win over Siena. Edwards scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in that outing.