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Q&A with Jeff Sheppard: Former Kentucky Wildcat and father of Reed Sheppard

Article written by:On3 imageZack Geoghegan


Jeff Sheppard is more than just a two-time National Champion and 1998 Most Oustanding Player--he's a father to one of the most interesting Kentucky high school prospects in recent memory. Reed Sheppard, the 17-year-old son of Jeff, recently picked up an offer from Wildcat head coach John Calipari after a stellar showing in Birmingham, Alabama last weekend. KSR was able to talk with Jeff about what led to the offer from Coach Cal, how Reed will respond to the pressure moving forward, and how he's enjoying being a father more than anything else right now. Below is the full Q&A from our conversation. On if he knew the Kentucky coaching staff would be watching in Alabama... We kinda knew everybody was gonna be down there. I don't know specifically that we knew exactly that the coaches were gonna be down there from Kentucky. We assumed that would be the case, and between the Under Armour event and the Adidas event last weekend, those were the two hot spots to visit so we kinda assumed the gym would be full of coaches from everywhere and that was the case. On if it was a shock to see the whole Kentucky coaching staff there... We don't think in those terms. Looking back, we didn't know the whole staff was there. There was 200 coaches there watching. There aren't many times when a full staff from a team is there to go. They kind of divide and conquer. But it wasn't like we were over on the bench counting how many coaches from each school were there. But it was pretty cool that they were all there watching. On when the Kentucky offer for Reed came in... We had played two of the six games when Orlando Antigua reached out and said if you guys are available this afternoon we'd like to have a phone call with you and then we ended up talking with them Friday afternoon. On if you got the sense that an offer was coming... I didn't. I thought Coach Cal would make some comments. He had sent some text messages in regards to how he had enjoyed watching Reed play and made a few comments about his opinion of his play. So I thought it would be a continuation of that and that Kentucky would continue to watch him throughout the rest of their evaluation period in July. But they're not the only school that's responded with a flurry. There's been a lot of action, a lot of offers that came out of the weekend, came out of a few games. I was kind of anticipating that evaluation being done throughout the whole month of July and instead they got to see what they wanted to see, not only from Kentucky's perspective but some of the other school's as well. On Reed's reaction to having so many offers come in at the same time... Reed is just being Reed. He's a pretty quiet kid. We like to have a lot of fun together that has nothing to do with basketball. It just has to do with living life and being a 17-year-old boy. Being his mom and dad, and his sister Madison, we have a lot of fun together regardless of what's going on with basketball. So really he's kinda been pretty much himself. Now to just say 'ah it's no big deal, just another day,' no, that's not the case. This whole process has been a lot of fun. It has been surprising for us. We knew he was a good little player, we've always known he's a good little player since he could walk. He's been a good athlete. I've watched him develop over the years but you just never know what other coaches, how they see him and see him fitting in their program and that kind of thing. We've been really looking forward all summer to the July evaluation period. We got to the July evaluation period and two games in, Reed is getting offers from Kentucky and Indiana and Ohio State. It just all kinda blew up there and we're just trying to digest it, enjoy it, keep it in perspective. Keep him grounded, keep him focused on what's really important, which is his team and continuing to stay healthy and continuing to improve and continuing to enjoy the summer of 2021 as a boy. So that's important for us, for him to not lose perspective on just enjoying the moment. On how he's been able to help Reed through all of this while keeping things quiet... I don't know how. We're just being us. We don't do a lot of social media communication. Right, wrong, or indifferent that's just kind of our choice. We're not intentionally being private. I've lived a pretty public life. I drove up I-75 from Georgia. I've lived a very public life so like I said, it's who we are. We're not doing anything intentional or unintentional and we're just trying to be ourselves and we will continue to be ourselves and that's our strategy with Reed, is be yourself and enjoy this process but at the same time don't let this process change who you are. Coaches seem to like who you are so why change who you are and how you communicate and how you make decisions and how you deal with attention? Just continue to be Reed. On how Reed will deal with having a bigger target on his back moving forward... I think he will take it fine. You never know until you're in that environment. It will definitely be fun. Kentucky high school basketball is a great atmosphere. It's one of my favorite basketball atmospheres in the world because you're getting to play with your friends, for your community. And for Reed, he's never lived anywhere other than London, Kentucky, and he's playing with boys he played ball with in kindergarten and first grade and went to elementary school and middle school and high school with. They fish together, they golf together, they spend the night together, they laugh together, they eat at Waffle House together. It really doesn't get better than this. When I reflect on--and I still stay in touch with my high school teammates. They were FaceTiming me the other day when Reed got the offer from Kentucky and those are my high school guys that I grew up with and played with. So when you take that atmosphere and all of the sudden you multiply the game by teams wanting to play well against North Laurel and against Reed personally, try to on the road yell at him and the fun of high school students being able to distract him, it makes for a very very fun, competitive atmosphere. How he will react to that? Hopefully, he'll be poised and he'll play basketball and continue to be Reed but he's got to go through that. We can prepare him for that but it's like anything: you do your best to prepare but ultimately you've got to go out there. But he's got a lot of experience. He's played a lot of basketball games in full gyms, empty gyms, he's traveled all around the country, from being a little boy he's played literally all across the country. You think that would help but you never know until you get there. On playing in front of packed gyms again... I think it will be good. Anytime you can have a basketball game and the gym is full, then it's a wonderful atmosphere, whether 500 people fill the gym or 50,000 fill the gym, when it's full there's just a special atmosphere and hopefully we'll be able to enjoy some of those games this year. On the differences between his recruitment process compared to Reed's... You're talking almost 30 years ago. You're comparing a black and white recruitment to a high-definition recruitment. It's just a different day. The travel basketball is different than it was when I was playing so Reed is getting a lot more attention and a lot more offers earlier. He got his offer from the University of Kentucky about a year earlier than I did. I got my offer, I don't remember the date or anything like that, but I remember it being after the summer of my junior season. He got his after his sophomore season. The dynamic in college basketball is completely different these days. You have professional leagues emerging, you have NIL emerging, you have the NBA, is just incredible right now. It's always been incredible but it's a different day. But at the end of the day, it's high school basketball and college basketball and there are a lot of similarities. Stacey and I have actually struggled remembering the details of what that looked like. That's been a popular question and we've struggled with it because it's 30 years ago so it's a little difficult to remember all the details accurately. On if Reed has poked fun for earning a UK offer before him... Not specifically that. He pokes fun at me all day for all kinds of things: bald-headed, getting older and gaining weight and he's getting taller, almost taller than me, he thinks he's stronger than me so he wants to wrestle, just father-son stuff. But that's how it's been between us from day one and how we hope it will always be between us. But he hasn't specifically said anything, but we'll see how it plays out. On who's winning the backyard games of one-on-one... Depends on the rules. If we're playing Jeff Sheppard rules I'm winning because there's not going to be too many fouls and I can figure that out. If we gotta play fair though I'll probably come up with an excuse not to enter into that game. Basketball is a young man's game and I don't know if I want to try to beat him and end up hobbled for a month or two so I don't mind taking a shot at him in some shooting games but I definitely don't want to play any defense right now. On watching Reed develop from a father's perspective... For both of our children, our daughter Madison is at Campbellsville University and she's going into her senior year, she plays basketball there and they have an incredible program. I've made this comment before, people have asked me what's it like to win the national championship at Kentucky and I say it's almost as good as seeing your children succeed on and off the basketball court. So it's very special. It is the time of our life right now, we are trying to slow these days down and they don't seem to want to cooperate, they seem to want to fly by and we know that they are precious and we're trying our best to truly enjoy the moment. We understand there's a process and that there are decisions that will have to be made that Reed will have to make and that kind of thing. But at the same time we're trying to enjoy today and that's an important part of life. Those are lessons that I can remember learning from my coaches. We had a goal to win a national championship but that didn't mean we can't enjoy the day. We couldn't enjoy the challenges of having a good practice and having a hard practice and getting better today and enjoying the victory over an opponent but still keeping in perspective that we have some bigger goals that we want to accomplish. That balance is difficult. If he can learn that early then it's a great life lesson and that's what we're after. Enjoy the moment, plan for the future, keep your head down and continue to improve and let's see how this all plays out, but let's not get consumed and miss the present. Today is where it's at and we want to make sure he captures the memories of today.

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