Exactly five weeks after he underwent surgery to repair a broken right hand, Magruder senior J.J. Epps returned to the lineup in last Monday’s 71-42 win over Northwest. Showing some expected rust after the layoff, the 5-foot-6 point guard averaged 8.3 points in his first three games back with the defending Maryland 4A champions.
Epps, who is left-handed, participated in just one full-contact practice before playing his first game, and he said he has dealt with some pain and limited motion, mostly in his still-strengthening wrist, that affects his dribbling and shooting.
“I definitely knew my hand wasn’t 100 percent coming back, but I knew it was going to get better over time” said Epps, a fourth-team All-Met last season. “I kind of have to continue to play and know the flow will come back.”
Epps suffered the injury when a Springbrook player stepped on his hand during an overtime loss on Dec. 19 and spent four weeks in a cast after surgery. He was averaging 14.2 points per game at the time of his injury.
No. 15 Magruder (14-2, 6-1 Montgomery 4A West) went 7-0 with their frenetic floor general sidelined. Junior forward Danny Schaerr took a spot in the starting lineup while senior guard Matt Ricketts took over point guard duties. George Washington recruit Nick Griffin, the program’s all-time leading scorer, did his part with Epps out, averaging 21 points in the seven games to take over the county scoring lead.
The Colonels hit a bump on Wednesday at Clarksburg , falling 62-58 in Epps’s second game back. The senior said a lack of energy and focus cost his team against the Coyotes, and Magruder bounced back in Friday’s 82-47 win over Richard Montgomery with Epps scoring 13 points.
“I think he was probably trying too hard his first two games back,” Magruder Coach Dan Harwood said. “J.J.’s such a competitor. I think [Friday was] the first time I saw signs of him being relaxed and playing at a nice pace.”
When healthy, Epps plays with a tempo few in the area can match, but that breakneck style has made it hard for him to stay on the floor, at times.
Epps missed two games with a wrist injury last winter, and he had his summer schedule cut short last year after tearing his meniscus in his right knee playing for his AAU team. He avoided surgery and spent two months rehabbing that injury.
The guard played through a sprain in the same knee earlier this season, returning to action in a week when his doctor had expected him to miss a month.
At the time of his most recent injury, Harwood said he felt bad for the senior because he has gotten smarter about picking his spots to attack the basket in a four-year varsity career. Epps, who said he holds scholarship offers from Hartford, Jacksonville and UNC-Greensboro, would rather look toward another deep playoff run than focus on those past injuries.
“I try not to think about it,” Epps said. “I try to go out there and play and give 110 percent every time I step on the floor.”