Chucky Hepburn is 14 years old. It’s easy to forget when he’s dicing up defenses on the hardwood at Bellevue West High School.
It’s an easy fact to forget just talking to him. “One of the best things about him is he’s very mature,” said Bellevue West head coach Doug Woodard.
And he’s not wrong. Hepburn is cool, level-headed, and soft-spoken. Where players of his caliber and youth can tend to be full of braggadocio, Hepburn is steady in his words. It’s his play that wows.
Hepburn was known on the AAU circuit as a special talent before he ever roamed the halls at Bellevue West. Google his name and you’ll see plenty of honors from tournaments and showcases gone by. It’s no surprise, especially to Hepburn, that he’s performed well at the high school level.
“I played up my whole life,” Hepburn said. “When I was in fourth grade, I was playing against seventh and eighth graders, sometimes high schoolers.”
But high school basketball is different than AAU hoops, where game time vastly overshadows practice time. Hepburn’s adjustment period was short. In his first varsity contest, the freshman point guard scored 23 points against Lincoln High. “I just expected to play basketball and do what I do,” Hepburn said of the effort.
Not my first one but here’s a video pic.twitter.com/T9EexxhpPm
— Chucky Hepburn (@chucky_hepburn) June 2, 2017
Hepburn’s early success is buoyed by the acceptance he’s received from coaches and players. Junior Nico Felici has been instrumental, according to Hepburn. When the Hepburn family moved to Bellevue last year, their neighbors were the Felicis. Felici played as a freshman as well and Hepburn counts him as his best friend on the team.
“We try not to look too much at age,” Woodard said. “If a kid can play, he can play whether he’s a freshman or a senior.”
It was game number seven of Hepburn’s high school career that truly opened eyes around the Metro Conference. Against Omaha Westside, Hepburn exploded for 40 points. His ability to score from virtually anywhere on the floor, a rarity for a young player, was on full display. “I’ve never seen it before,” said Woodard. “You’re scoring 40 points on 18 shots. That’s incredibly efficient.”
Hepburn is more than a just a scorer. Woodard sees a player who can play the point guard position as both a traditional distributor as well a potent scoring threat.
“He understands what you want to do offensively,” Woodard said. “He gives us a presence at that position we haven’t had in a long time.”
Presence at point guard is somewhat of a hallmark of Woodard’s teams. He’s had three go on to play Division I basketball – Zach Fortune at Iowa State, Josh Dotzler and Antoine Young at Creighton. But his current point guard has something special. “I don’t think, as a freshman, I’ve coached a kid who has a higher ceiling,” Woodard said. “It was obvious to see that he’s a very unique freshman.”
— Bellevue West BBall (@TBirdBB) January 9, 2018
Perhaps not so unique is the role Hepburn’s father, Greg, has played in his development. Greg won three letters at Bellevue University and has transferred his passion for the game to his son. Woodard counts Hepburn’s upbringing as a key factor in creating a coachable, humble player. It’s a relationship of which Hepburn himself speaks glowingly.
“He was my coach all my life,” Hepburn said. “It’s really a blessing to have a dad that understands the game of basketball to train you.”
Through all the praise, accolades and success, Hepburn remains the mature, even-keel player coaches and teammates have come to appreciate. It’s a feat that has impressed Woodard, perhaps even more than Hepburn’s play. It would be easy to excuse some arrogance or entitlement, given the high level of achievement.
Hepburn is, after all, just 14 years old.