Jeff Sheppard couldn’t be happier right now.
Take away everything he’s accomplished on the basketball court and throughout his professional career, and the 1998 NCAA Tournament’s Most Oustanding Player is enjoying his life to the fullest for one simple reason: his two children are having fun. But not only are they having fun, Reed and Madison Sheppard are excelling in the same sport that both of their parents became legendary for.
Madison is a soon-to-be senior on the Campbellsville Women’s Basketball Team and coming off a career-best junior season campaign. Reed, a 17-year-old at North Laurel High School, just picked up an offer from his parents’ alma mater, the University of Kentucky, and a slew of other big-name Power 5 programs after an outstanding weekend of AAU basketball in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jeff Sheppard won two NCAA National Championships as a Wildcat in 1996 and 1998 before playing a few years professionally. He was the 1998 MOP, the 1993 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, and Mr. Georgia Basketball in 1992. His wife, Stacey, won two Kentucky state championships during her high school days and later became one of Kentucky Women’s Basketball’s all-time greats. She currently sits in 13th place for most points scored in a career with 1,482, sixth in assists with 442, second in steals at 309, eighth in games started with 110, and sixth in made three-point field goals with 175. Stacey also earned All-SEC honors twice and won a Gold and Silver Medal representing the United States.
Combined, Jeff and Stacey are the truest and most successful of Big Blue power couples. But those careers are in the past. First and foremost, they’re parents now. But what could be better than watching your children succeed in doing what you dedicated your past to?
“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,” Jeff Sheppard recently told KSR. “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.”
Before he knows it, Jeff’s only son, Reed, will be making a decision on where he wants to attend college. A rising junior at North Laurel, that day is still far away for Reed, but the pressure and expectations are stockpiling. After putting on a show in front of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and his three assistants–Orlando Antigua, Ron “Chin” Coleman, and Jai Lucas–last weekend, Reed received an unexpected offer from the ‘Cats. Not only that though; he picked up offers from Indiana, Ohio State, and Clemson after his successful weekend on the hardwood.
“I didn’t,” Jeff Sheppard admitted about if he thought an offer from UK was coming. “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 schools as well.”
The connection between the Sheppards and the University of Kentucky is obvious. Reed has grown up in London, Kentucky his whole life, surrounded by the allure of Kentucky Basketball and the story behind his father’s Wildcat career. Crowds will hopefully be able to flood gyms this year to come and watch Reed compete after a year of not being able to do so. The shine around his star is only going to grow brighter. The majority of the Big Blue Nation would like for Reed to spend his college career in Lexington.
But that type of pressure doesn’t faze Reed, or even Jeff for that matter. The family preaches having fun. Reed has been playing with his North Laurel teammates since kindergarten, people that have now become his life-long friends. He’s just halfway through his high school career and is one of the better basketball players in the entire state. It doesn’t get much better than this.
“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,” Jeff Sheppard said. “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.”
Part of what makes the Sheppards such an interesting family is how quiet they seem to be. They aren’t big on social media or in the public eye–even though Jeff spent years living in the public eye–but are simply being themselves. There is no show being put on other than Reed’s talents on the court.
“We’re just being us,” Jeff Sheppard added. “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.”
Reed will have to continue to be Reed with an even larger target on his back than usual. High school atmospheres will be rowdy, but fun. He’s been preparing for this moment, but none of it will matter if he doesn’t go out and execute on his own.
“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,” Jeff Sheppard said. “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.”
The season is still several months away, though, and the Sheppards are looking forward to a much-needed break in the nonstop action, which should hopefully come in August. In the meantime, Jeff will continue to enjoy his life as the dad of a basketball player–and nothing else. He knows it won’t last forever, either, so now it’s about making every day count with his son.
“He pokes fun at me all day for all kinds of things,” Jeff added. “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.”