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Editor's note: This story originally was published in March as part of Women's History Month. 

LEXINGTON, Ky. — For all the expectations Reed Sheppard has lived with since starting high school, it's outlandish how easy he makes basketball look most of the time. How abnormal this all is, to witness a free-flowing, improvisational, sometimes-chaotic game come so naturally for a 19-year-old living in the fishbowl of Kentucky Basketball.

A beloved Bluegrass boy and the son of Kentucky greats. What's transpiring here is storybook.  

There might not be anyone with more pressurized attention on him in college basketball than Sheppard. Watch him play and you'd never know it. His game is a magic trick in that it seems anachronistic yet timeless. His style and persona is so reliably retro, they should bring back VHS tapes to package his highlights. Basketball's glamourous contours often reward the baroque player who succeeds on glitz, strength and a rotating sizzle reel of moves; that's not Sheppard. His methodical confidence puts Sheppard in a different gear from everyone else on the floor. He always seems out of step, but in the best way. 

Few players have that constant tracking device — a deftness — for understanding split-second timing, but he's got it. 

And he inherited it.

"If you think Reed's hands are good on defense, they're nothing compared to the way Stacey played," his dad, Jeff Sheppard, told CBS Sports. "She had a huge influence on him. And still has a huge influence on Reed."

Quiet mind, have fun, no complaining, keep it basic.

He plays just like Mom. 

"I'm very thankful that people say that. It's pretty cool," Reed Sheppard said.

She's the woman who gave Reed his name — and much of his game. In the 1990s, Stacey Reed was a star for the Kentucky women's basketball team and one of the best players in the SEC. Now, with her son's stellar season bringing national attention to a Kentucky folktale, Stacey is getting rightful national plaudits three decades later.

"That other stuff changes the whole game. Where he's where he can steal it, he can tip it, he can block it," Kentucky coach John Calipari told CBS Sports. "But that's more of his mother in him and how she played."

Illinois State v Kentucky
'Reed's IQ is incredible,' his mom, Stacey, told CBS Sports. Getty Images

He's thriving while coming off the bench as part of a roster spoiled with a loaded combination of NBA talent and irreplaceable veteran experience. This No. 1 recruiting class included four top-25 prospects: Justin Edwards (No. 3), Aaron Bradshaw (No. 5), DJ Wagner (No. 6) and Rob Dillingham (No. 21). Sheppard was a four-star prospect — certainly coveted and earnestly recruited by power-conference programs — but ranked a distant fifth amongst his peers.

It didn't look that way last summer in Toronto, when Kentucky won the GLOBL Jam and Sheppard wasted little time showing his prowess. Calipari quickly realized what he had.

"I was like, wait a minute," Calipari said. "He gets his hands on balls that he has no business getting his hands on. He sees people that — how did he see that? We had an out-of-bounds play and he threw a lob. It wasn't even in the play, but the guy was open, so he threw it and the guy dunks it. I'm like … how did you?" 

Sheppard's trajectory has taken a rocket ride since the start of the season. With March here, he seems ready for the big-time. On Tuesday, the ever-steady, never-shaken Sheppard had the best performance of his 28-game career, notching 32 points — including the game-winner — and piloting a 13-point second half comeback (scoring 11 points in the final minute and a half) on the road vs. Mississippi State. He dished seven dimes, had five rebounds and, in a signature closeout moment, after cashing an off-footed floater to give Kentucky the lead with 0.5 seconds left, Sheppard intercepted Mississippi State's prayer heave to clinch it. 

Ending matters with a steal. Perfect.

Sheppard is Kentucky's crackerjack kleptomaniac, logging two or more thefts in 24 of his 28 games. Those hands, like Stacey's, they're 'Cat-quick. Sheppard's so adroit that his nose for steals sometimes irks Calipari, but given the results, it's hard to tell him not to gamble. He gets into gaps with the spurtability of a wide receiver popping off the line of scrimmage. 

"To anticipate both on defense and offense and see the game, as in a wide vision, is off the charts," Calipari said. "Unbelievable feel for the game and his ability to anticipate. It's like a really good baseball player being able to see the seams on a curveball. The game slows for him a little bit."

By some metrics, he rates as college hoops' top freshman. ranks Sheppard as the fourth-best player in the sport. His efficiency numbers are borderline obscene. The eye-popping stat: 51.7% 3-point shooting (on 4.1 attempts per game). His 69.5 true shooting percentage is No. 1 among all high-major players. He's one of only four guys (and the lone freshman) averaging at least 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals. 

Sheppard's success and increasing fame has been buoyed every night this season with a phone call to Mom. No matter where he's at, no matter what's going on, they are talking. Every night. 

"They just have a really special relationship that I pray never goes away," his sister, Madison, said. "A boy needs his mama."

Stacey and Reed: 'He's the spitting image'

LONDON, Ky. — About an hour's drive south of Lexington, down I-75, is a place that belies its recognizable name: London. The tiny town sits in Laurel County, just before the hills of eastern Kentucky take shape, and is home to a royal Kentucky-blue bloodline. It's where the Sheppards have lived for two decades, in a house they built right before Reed was born. It's also where Stacey grew up. She was raised on a farm and loved to speed on her bike and fish in the ponds. Her daddy taught her how to put up hay and hang tobacco.

As much as anything, she loved watching Kentucky basketball.

"I didn't really understand the significance of what playing for the University of Kentucky would mean until I got there," Stacey Sheppard told CBS Sports.

Stacey's father taught her to fight hard and play tough for everything because no one would guarantee her anything. She took it as gospel. No matter the sport, Stacey was usually the smallest — and the best. This is a person who is so competitive that whenever she punches in a driving destination address on her phone, she then tries to beat the GPS' predicted arrival time. 

"I had to work harder and do everything better than everybody else to get noticed," she said. "Every time I stepped out on the court, I wanted to be the best."

"If you cut her, I know there's gonna be some red, but there'd probably be blue in there too," Stacey's college coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "And that smile. If you've seen it, it's contagious."

Fanning-Otis won more than 600 games across nearly four decades of coaching. She first saw Stacey as an eighth-grader, when she was starting for her varsity team, as she would for the next five years. 

"From the get-go, a player that you wanted the ball in her hands," Fanning-Otis said. "Total package. … She's been one of the best I've really been blessed to coach. … She had great hops. She was a very, very good athlete and could board, could handle the ball, could shoot the ball, could push the ball, post up, had range."

Back then she was Stacey Reed, a name that has long since resonated across her state. Reed was one of the best players in the SEC in the 1990s. Her career averages: 13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.7 steals as a 5-7 point guard, who earned All-SEC honors three times. She still sits high in the program record books: No. 1 in steals per game, No. 2 in total assists, top-10 in points scored. A crackling floor leader with a competitive edge that had no off button.

Women's basketball in the '90s received only a fraction of the attention and respect that it's finally, rightfully experienced in recent years. To that end, not many people can truly compare Stacey Reed's game to her baby boy's. But Fanning-Otis can. She saw it maybe before anyone else outside of the family while watching Reed Sheppard in high school. That low bounce, playing ahead, a quick jump shot. It was obvious.

Ask Reed for a minute to talk about his mom and he'll give you 10. More than anyone, he's playing for her and embraces the comparisons. 

"How hard she plays and how hard she works, even to this day," Reed said of how Stacey, who is also a breast cancer survivor, inspires him. "I know how good my mom was and how impactful she was on the basketball court. So, if I get told I play like a girl because of my mom, then I play like a girl."

Stacey Sheppard (née Reed) remains Kentucky's all-time leader in steals average and is No. 2 in assists. Stacey Sheppard/Kentucky Athletics

Her strongest skill was her anticipation. She'd see the floor open up in her mind seconds before players then did as she assumed. Stacey played at Kentucky from 1991-95. In the back half of her career, she met a young Cat who initially played dumb. 

When Stacey was a junior and Jeff Sheppard was a freshman struggling to adapt to Rick Pitino's temperament, she wrote Jeff a note and handed it to him in the training room. On the paper was a simple message: "If you ever want to get away and go fishing sometime, I'd be happy to take you." What happened next is the opposite of a fairy tale.

"I took her note and wadded it up and threw it in the trash," Jeff said. "So, that wasn't a good start. But, a few months later, I came to my senses." 

Jeff won two national championships and was the 1998 Final Four's Most Outstanding Player. He was the guy who could quick-shoot off screens, run the lanes well, blaze in transition and had great hops. Just loved dunking on dudes.

"A lot of people ask me who was better and I say, 'Of course I was better,'" Jeff said with a smile. "But no, the numbers are stacked against me. She scored more points than me. She shot the ball better. She had more assists, more steals and played at a much higher level and much more well-rounded player than me."

After college, Jeff proposed at her childhood farm in London, next to a pond at the bottom of a hill. In short time, they'd have a daughter, Madison and, almost four years later, a son who was bequeathed his mother's maiden name. So many other traits — habits, ticks and identifiers that have nothing to do with basketball — have been handed down from Stacey to Reed. 

"He's the spitting image of my mom," his sister Madison said. "He looks like my mom. He acts like my mom. He has her sense of humor. He has her wittiness." 

That connection and bond transpires in how he plays — though it's not like Reed is a carbon copy of Mom. Of course he's got some of Jeff's traits. Stacey has been getting more and more attention for her playing days in recent months, but she isn't willing to take all the credit. For all the mom comparisons, Reed did choose to wear dad's No. 15.

"There's characteristics that Reed has in his games that are a lot like his daddy," Stacey said. 

More than anything, it's the leaping ability, as this viral screencap from the Mississippi State game proves. 

Still, he grew up only hearing the stories and filling his mind with images of Mom in a Kentucky uniform. Scant video of Stacey's playing days exist. It makes his inherited traits a little more magical. Stacey approached basketball like she wouldn't allow people to forget about her after they had to play against her. Reed's more casual, but his impact has a similar effect. The wonder of Reed's success is in how he was bequeathed certain traits that are beyond his comprehension. 

"Passion, diving on the ball on the floor for loose balls, communicating with her coach, connecting with the fans, all of that is what we see in Reed," Jeff said. "And so it doesn't surprise me because, you know, that's Mama."

Kentucky has been as predictable as a busted barometer this season, but damn if this isn't the most entertaining team in college basketball. Thanks in part to Sheppard's long-range accuracy, the Wildcats are No. 1 nationally in 3-pointers (40.7%), a development that was previously unimaginable under Calipari; his 11 prior teams all ranked outside the top 70 and most were in the 100s and 200s. Kentucky also ranks fourth in points per game (88.8), its highest clip in 34 seasons.

When he's on the floor, UK is 14.2 points better per 100 possessions than when he's off, per Pivot Analysis data. His impact is both obvious and intangible. His poise is abnormal for a first-year college player. He decodes the game differently from the other nine playing with and against him.

When Stacey watches, her eyes go toward his hands. She is processing and sees how her boy processes. It's a feeling few people can make a connection to. He thinks like she thinks and she thinks like he thinks. To be one play ahead is to be on time. 

"I really wish I could find something where I could be able to watch at least a game just so I can understand," Reed said. "I know how good she was and I know how she played, but I wish I could sit down and watch a game and I could see it for myself."

'You're built for this'

Since he could walk, a ball was Reed's best friend. He displayed dexterity from an abnormally young age. He was the most gifted, but because he was the youngest, he also lost. 

All. The. Time.

"Mom and dad and even my sister, Madison, they never let you win in anything," Reed said. "Whether it was basketball, soccer, football, baseball, anything in the basement, anything outside, you're never going to win." 

Jeff coached Reed's first travel basketball team. And, well …

"My dad put them in a league that was a year older than them and they absolutely got destroyed. And that was intentional," Madison said. "From a very young age, he learned to compete and so it would tear him up inside to lose. Whether that was a basketball game, or tic-tac-toe in the living room. I mean, his anger."

Try to picture Reed Sheppard bursting with rage; the image doesn't compute. That's years of humility. Nothing easy, nothing given. Always punch up. Stop complaining and put in the work.

"I am really protective of him," said Madison, also a standout player who went on to Campbellsville University. "It really wasn't of interest to me to compete against him, but it was of interest of him to compete against me." 

So she kicked his butt at pretty much everything until Reed was well into puberty. Reed vs. Madison, Reed vs. Jeff, Reed vs. Stacey — he had drag-out fights with all of them, especially on the Sheppards' outdoor basketball court. Scraped knees, bloody elbows, intense bonding with fervent competition. Reed piled up defeats higher than the eastern Kentucky hillside. 

"I'm really grateful for that," he said. 

If not for the tough love, is he this far ahead of the pace today? Probably not. Growing up as children to two Kentucky greats, Madison and Reed didn't really know their parents' history until they started understanding why strangers would approach Stacey and Jeff in public. They had zero Kentucky paraphernalia of any kind hanging in their home. They wanted their children to grow up on their own path, with their own choices and without any influence. Basketball was in no way forced upon them.

"A lot of people love the over-analysis of the Sheppards. We're not that profound. We're really not," Jeff said. "People ask us all these questions, and I'm like, we're just a family that loves our kids. That's trying to love them and support them the best that we can. We haven't consciously thought about all of these things. We didn't break down film at dinner every single night. We're just a family that loves our kids, and the Lord has blessed us and we're trying to work hard and treat people right. That's who we are."

From left, the Sheppards: Stacey, Reed, Madison and Jeff. Stacey Sheppard

Still, Reed was nuts for Kentucky basketball from a young age. It's hard not to be when you're from where he's from. 

"Growing up in this state, people plan weddings, they plan funerals, they plan everything around Kentucky basketball," Stacey said.

Reed ranks Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Josh Harrelson and DeMarcus Cousins as his five favorite Kentucky players. When Reed was young, Harrelson would come over to the house and play basketball. To this day above Reed's bed are framed pictures and autographs of Towns, Booker, Anthony Davis, John Wall, the entire 2010-11 team and more. Beyond being a great basketball player, one of the things that endears Sheppard to the state is fan-like devotion to the program and standing tall on his eastern Kentucky roots.

There's been extra excitement about Sheppard's rise because there is an immense pride in the state about Kentucky-born players wearing Big Blue. Sheppard is the only scholarship player from the Bluegrass State on this year's roster and is one of only a handful of Kentucky natives to suit up for Calipari. 

"When Reed steps on to the floor, there's an electricity that goes through Rupp Arena that's just different," his mom said. "And it's different for us because we know what a Kentucky kid, born and raised in Kentucky, playing for the University of Kentucky, checking into a game means to the Kentucky fans."

Historically, Kentucky almost always has its best seasons when someone from the state is playing meaningful minutes. Might be coincidental, but the symbolism has long held significance. Sheppard is now regarded as the best Kentucky-born player to don a Big Blue uniform since Rajon Rondo (another autograph hanging in Reed's bedroom). But unlike Rondo, Sheppard played all four years in high school in the state and in his hometown. In this regard, he's the most exciting and accomplished player to meet those qualifications since Rex Chapman in the late 1980s. Chapman is who Jeff Sheppard looked up to as a player coming out of Georgia; he influenced Jeff's decision to want to play for UK. 

For Reed, bonding over Kentucky basketball dates back to when he was 3, when the family would watch the occasional game at Rupp Arena or, even better, go to the SEC Tournament. At the 2011 SEC Tournament, Jeff's financial firm reserved a suite; he and Reed were the last ones there and fell asleep on the couch, only to wake up at 1 a.m. with the place clearing out. Jeff carried his sleepy son back to the hotel. 

"They want Kentucky players to play at Kentucky and to play well at Kentucky," Jeff said.

Having the name Sheppard and becoming a REALLY good basketball player doesn't just attract attention. It brings a mania. Reed's trajectory from the age of 14 became a minidrama in the state. When you see him making college basketball look a lot easier as a freshman than most others are capable of, just know there was a time when the thought of Reed Sheppard being good enough to play at Kentucky was debatable. 

"If Reed had a bad game, they didn't meet their expectations, we heard about it," Stacey said.

Could he ever get to that level? If he did, would he take a scholarship offer?

John Calipari shakes hands with a young Reed, more than a decade before he'd coach him. Kentucky Athletics

The first time Calipari met Reed, the boy was all of maybe 8 years old. It was an alumni event early in Calipari's term and Jeff was playing in a charity game. Flash forward about eight years, and Calipari goes to Birmingham, Alabama, to see Reed in a summer tournament for one game. Reed is good, not great. Calipari had other prospects to watch and flew to Las Vegas that night, while assistant Orlando Antigua stayed to watch Reed the next day. He had an outrageous first half and played three times better than when Calipari watched. 

Antigua sent the text. He's good enough. We have to offer him. So, as Calipari was walking in 105-degree heat, he called the Sheppards and offered a scholarship. In that moment, a massive event in the history of Kentucky Basketball materialized.

"It was definitely a shock," Reed told CBS Sports. "I got the offer after the game and I had to calm down and relax and go play another game and try not to not to think about it."

Hard not to, though. Madison was brought in on FaceTime and the family had an emotional moment of celebration. This was verification. Would he play there? 

"I wanted Reed to do his own thing," Madison said, wondering then if Virginia might be a better choice. "I was concerned that he felt pressured not by my parents, but by the state. ... His bedroom was full of Kentucky basketball, and so as every little boy in the state of Kentucky dreams of going to Kentucky, so did Reed."

He took visits to Virginia, Indiana, Louisville and Ohio State. Within minutes of the Ohio State visit ending, as father and son walked back to the car, Reed fessed up. It was Kentucky the whole time. Stacey didn't even bother going on the visit. Reed hadn't told her, but she already knew.

"I think you're built for this, but it's not for everybody," Calipari told him. He's given that line to most of his recruits over the past 15 years. But Sheppard is different. He wasn't just from Kentucky — he was Kentucky. His name quite literally carries historical significance in the legacies of both women's and men's Kentucky basketball. The only person that had to feel he was built for it was Reed. He knew what that meant. He wanted to be a part of that. He ran to it.

Calipari expected Sheppard to handle Kentucky specifically because it wasn't going to be new for him. The pressure that would crush a lot of other players has dissipated around him. The shooting had to improve. Has it ever.

"All of a sudden he's gone from a good shooter to one of the better shooters in college basketball," Calipari said. 

The best thing you can say about Reed Sheppard is he fits anywhere, any time, on any team. Yet he seems unrepeatable in 2024. It's what built him to be able to handle the megawatt spotlight of being a Kentucky kid following in a lineage that has hit myth-making status over the past four months. He's gone from the little boy with a dream to making other little boys dream big.

In them, he sees himself. He was that boy. In some ways, he still is. 

NCAA Basketball: Illinois State at Kentucky
Stacey and Jeff Sheppard can't help but wear their emotions publicly when watching Reed and their 'Cats. USATSI

"When he's introduced to go in the game, it's the building, the top comes off," Calipari said.

This story is not the first to bring attention to Reed's family history, and in particular, how big of a role Stacey has played in this. What remains inspiring is how normal the family is. And by normal I mean: They are lovable lunatics during Kentucky games. 

"Us having a Kentucky basketball background does not make us exempt from being a nervous wreck," Jeff said.

"It's a rush of adrenaline, almost like you're getting ready for a fight," Stacey said.

"Even at my sister's games, they were the loudest people in the gym," Reed said. 

It's a wonderful dichotomy: Reed's composure on the court vs. his parents' maniacal torment. What a beautiful family. 

Calipari said the best players he's had, without exception, have been the ones who are almost always even-keeled. Seldom rattled. Their demeanor is the same in the first minute as the last. If you're up-and-down, "it's hard to be the best."

He's certainly playing like one of the best. 

"It makes this mama really proud," she said. "I think Jeff is a little overeager to give all of the credit to me because he has been huge with Reed's development. But to be fair, to hear people say that they play like me, it's really neat." 

In Reed's bedroom, next to the photos and autographs of Kentucky players gone by, is a replica of a backboard nailed to the wall. Stacey built it with the wood from her grandparents' barn. The goal screwed to it is the old rusty rim she shot on as a girl. She put it over Reed's bed "just to remind him of a little bit of where he came from, where I came from and how much that basketball has always meant to our family."

Their message to Reed now, on the precipice of the most important month of his life yet, is the same one they've been showering him with when he could only dream to one day play for Kentucky, like his mom and dad: You have been equipped with enough. All you have to do is be yourself. 

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