UK joins list of schools to make offer to Sheppard

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, July 13, 2021

One person who thought a Kentucky scholarship offer was coming for North Laurel junior Reed Sheppard was Nate Valentine, Sheppard’s high school coach.

“The Sheppard family plays things pretty close to their chest,” said Valentine. “Kentucky had been in contact. We had a good talk back in January about where he was and they (UK coaches) said they would watch him play. He’s just the fourth player they offered in the 2023 class, so that’s something. I certainly felt the offer would eventually come, so it was not a big surprise.”

Sheppard got the offer Friday between AAU games in Birmingham when UK coach John Calipari called him. Calipari and his entire staff watched Sheppard play Thursday and then assistant Orlando Antigua watched him play twice Friday.

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“Reed does a great job not letting this consume and control him,” Valentine said.

The 6-3 guard averaged 30 points per game last season to lead the state and now has 11 Division I scholarship offers, including one from Louisville.

His parents were both former UK stars. Jeff Sheppard was on UK’s 1996 and 1998 national championship teams (he was Final Four MVP in 1998) and the 1997 team that lost in the national title game. Stacey Reed Sheppard led UK in assists and steals all four years she played and led the team in scoring as a junior and senior. She ranks 13th on UK’s all-time scoring list.

“The Sheppards have been through this. They knew this was coming and it was just a matter of when,” Valentin said. “They are outstanding parents from a coaching standpoint and are some of the most down to earth people ever. They are excited about all his others.”

Kentucky basketball fans are, too, and Valentine knows what kind of buzz his team will create this season. North Laurel started 19-0 last year, was ranked No. 1 in the state and led the state in scoring. Sports Illustrated even featured Reed Sheppard in a story.

North Laurel has basically the same team back and with no COVID restrictions this season most North Laurel games will attract capacity crowds.

“We got a good taste of the interest even last year,” Valentine said. “There will be a lot of excitement across the state and certainly here in London for Reed and our team.

“Reed never makes it about him. He wants it to be about his high school team. That’s important to him. Reed could have jumped ship and went to any prep school in the country. Instead, he chose to stay home and play with his friends and had faith everything would work out.

“I said when I got here he was the best offensive player I had coached and he was a freshman. He’s just special.”

Sheppard is so special that North Laurel has been invited to almost every major high school tournament in the country. Valentine felt it was important to stay in the state rather than travel across the country. North Laurel will play in the King of the Bluegrass as well as Lexington Catholic’s holiday tournament. North Laurel was scheduled to play in both events last year before COVID cancelled both events.

“Our school has never played in either tournament,” Valentine said. “I want to do what is best for our team and put us in the right spot for a successful season. Reed will have enough exposure without us traveling around the country. We don’t have to fix our schedule to get exposure for him.

“We have a really good group of guys. They enjoy playing with each other. They are all really good friends. They are just as happy for Reed as he is for them.”

North Laurel finished 25-3 last season but lost in the 13th Region title game to Knox Central 78-63. Knox Central has won the last three regional titles and thanks to the “do-over” educational option has its top players all back again.

“The region still belongs to them until somebody beats them,” Valentine said.

Jevonte Turner averaged 25.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for Knox Central last year and sophomore Gavin Chadwell added 8.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. He already has a UK football scholarship offer.

Valentine says Corbin, Harland and Harlan County also should have outstanding teams and likely Division I players.

“Our region is going to be really good again,” Valentine said. “We know nothing is guaranteed and that we are going to have a target on us. But our guys got used to that last year and even with all the attention on Reed and our team, our guys will all keep their focus and certainly Reed will keep his focus on our team.”