J.J. Epps arrived at school Monday morning with his left arm in a sling. But there was never a doubt in the diminutive junior’s mind that he was going to be on the basketball court that night as sixth-ranked Magruder battled its biggest rival.
Epps visited the doctor after school and got clearance that his injured shoulder was healed enough to play. Back in the starting lineup, the 5-foot-6 point guard scored nine of his season-high 13 points in the second half as the host Colonels handed 10th-ranked Springbrook its first loss, 59-50, in a Montgomery County nonleague game before a capacity crowd of 1,500 in Derwood.
“I was thinking we weren’t going to have him, but I’m not surprised,” Magruder Coach Dan Harwood said. “I’ve never had a tougher kid than J.J. He’s fearless.”
Epps was injured in a victory over Whitman last Wednesday, when an opponent fell on top of him during the second quarter. But he played the rest of the game — finishing with eight points and 10 assists — and did not discover the severity of his injury until he woke up the next morning with his entire arm swollen.
He went to the hospital Thursday and X-rays were negative. Epps said he was told he had either bruised or dislocated his shoulder. He had not stepped back on the court before warmups Monday night.
“I played freely and didn’t think about it,” Epps said. “I have a real high tolerance for pain, so it didn’t bother me.”
There are high expectations this season for Magruder (5-1), with senior forward Garland Owens and junior sharpshooter Nick Griffin leading the way. But the undersize Epps is the Colonels’ catalyst, according to Harwood.
“J.J. is a tough matchup,” Harwood said. “Even if a team had a 5-4 guy to put on him.”
Of course, Epps has yet to come across an opponent his height. Harwood once wondered how Epps would fare but quickly became a believer at an open gym prior to Epps’s freshman season.
“I’m in my office watching and on the first play [a former player] goes up and J.J. pins it on the lower part of the backboard,” Harwood said. “I said right then, ‘He’s playing varsity.’ ”
While Griffin (season-low six points) struggled Monday, Epps had plenty of help from Owens, who had 18 points and six rebounds while battling Springbrook standout Demetric Austin, who finished with 13 points and 20 rebounds.