LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Makayla Epps and Dominique Hawkins had similar goals: closing their careers with state championships.
Epps led Marion County to the title while Hawkins was a force for Madison Central. Along the way, the players also accomplished some personal goals before they begin their college careers at Kentucky.
Epps was name the girls player of the year and Hawkins the boys player of the year in voting by members of The Associated Press.
Covington schools swept the coaches' awards: Holmes' Jason Booher (boys) and Notre Dame's Nicole Levandusky (girls) were chosen. Notre Dame reached the girls Sweet 16 final before falling to Marion County; Holmes lost in the boys Sweet 16 quarterfinal to Madison Central.
"I just set team goals as my main focus, and all the individual goals just added to it," said Epps, a 5-foot-10 point guard who averaged 23 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors at the Girls Sweet 16 tournament in Bowling Green.
For Hawkins, winning the Boys Sweet 16 championship and being named MVP were more than he ever imagined.
"We just wanted to win the regional title at the beginning of the year and took nothing for granted," the 6-1 guard said. "I've been the go-to guy since my junior year, but this year was harder because of the schedule we played. I learned a lot this year, especially in being a leader of my team."
Hawkins averaged 20.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season for Madison Central (35-2). That included 21 points and 10 rebounds in the Sweet 16 final against Ballard.
Ironically, Hawkins' mishandled pass in the final seconds of that game ended up giving the Indians their first championship. The loose ball rolled to Ken-Jah Bosley, who drilled a 3-pointer over two defenders with 2.2 seconds left for a 65-64 victory.
"Those last seconds were crazy, but he knocked down the shot," Hawkins said of Bosley's game-winner.
Witnessing Hawkins' tournament performances at Rupp Arena was Kentucky coach John Calipari, who recently signed him to a letter of intent. In announcing the signing of the school's 17th Kentucky Mr. Basketball, Calipari praised his take-charge attitude and will to win — qualities he hopes will help lead the Wildcats back to national prominence after missing the NCAA tournament last season.
Still, Hawkins faces a huge battle for playing time with the Wildcats, whose latest recruiting class is considered the best in school history. Guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison are among six McDonald's All-American coming to Kentucky next season.
"I just have to compete as hard as I can," said Hawkins, who has participated in several all-star games and will represent the state against Indiana standouts in June.
Epps meanwhile earned McDonald's All-American recognition en route to leading Marion County's dominant season.
A second-team AP selection as a junior, the daughter of former Kentucky point guard and 1996 national champion Anthony Epps credits better decision-making and leadership skills for helping her average 23.3 points, 4.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game this season.
Epps' poise was evident all year for the Lady Knights (39-0), who improved from state runners-up last season to champions with a 52-36 victory over Notre Dame in Bowling Green. She had 15 points in the final, capping a Sweet 16 run that saw Marion County win four games by an average of 25 points.
"My leadership was the most satisfying part of this season," Epps said. "I took charge on the court and was better at deciding when to shoot, when not to shoot and when to make a pass.
"Everything we got, we earned. And to finish 39-0 was great with the tough competition we had."
Epps and teammate Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, another first-team selection, head to Kentucky hoping to take the Wildcats to their first Final Four.
"I feel like my court IQ will help me be a big-time point guard in college," Epps added. "Growing up, I always knew blue."
Levandusky's selection follows a season in which Notre Dame (29-6) was Region 9 champion and became the first Northern Kentucky school since Highlands (1994) to reach the final. Her next challenge is building the same success at Cooper, where she took over as coach two weeks ago.
But she looks back proudly on this year's achievement at Notre Dame.
"The girls had a mission to win the region," Levandusky said, "and once they got there to state, it was whatever happens, happens. Our key was chemistry and the girls worked together to make it happen. It was very satisfying."
Holmes (32-3) began a school-record 25-0 and suffered two of its three losses in overtime, including a 65-61 decision to Madison Central in the Sweet 16.
"It's a real honor," Booher said of his selection. "I can brag about my staff and I think it honors their hard work and dedication. ... We lose three players, but we've got the nucleus of a team that can get back there."