In June of 2017, fresh off his eighth grade graduation, Chucky Hepburn made his debut for Bellevue West basketball.
Since then the dynamic 2021 point guard has earned a starting role, dropped a 40-point explosion, helped lead his team to the Class A state championship game and picked up his first Division I offer, and he’s just getting started.
That offer came from Nebraska and Coach Tim Miles. Last Tuesday, Hepburn made the drive down to Lincoln to check out the Huskers for the first time. He was surprised by what he found.
“I was actually really surprised when [Coach Miles] offered me because I was just going there expecting to get a little visit to meet the coaches and stuff, but he just came out of nowhere and offered me,” Hepburn said. “The facilities really amazed me.”
Hepburn is a 6-foot, 176-pound point guard with a versatile skill-set capable of making an impact in every facet of the game. Hepburn said his ability to create for others is the best part of his game at this stage — and his court vision and decision-making certainly stand out any time he takes the floor — but he’s more than capable of carrying the scoring load as well as evidenced by the 40-point game he had against Omaha Westside on Dec. 22. He shot 11-of-17 from the field including 4-of-7 from 3 and a perfect 14-of-14 from the free-throw line. It was just his seventh varsity game.
This summer, Hepburn said he wants to work on improving his defense, but he’s already solid on that end as his quick hands and anticipation help him force turnovers and his quick feet allow him to stay in front of ball-handlers.
Hepburn’s unofficial wasn’t the first time Miles has seen the 6-foot, 176-pound floor general. The Thunderbirds visited Lincoln Southwest during the season on Feb. 1 and Miles was in the crowd. Hepburn finished with 11 points, eight assists, four steals and just two turnovers in a 66-58 win.
For the season, Hepburn averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals for a Bellevue West team that went 21-7 and lost to Creighton Prep in the Class A championship. Since then, Hepburn has been tearing it up with his AAU quad, Team Factory Gold 15U. Team Factory went undefeated during the spring.
Every year, AAU basketball takes a break during the month of June to allow players to compete with their high school teams during tournaments and leagues, and it’s that time of the year once again.
At the start of June last year, Hepburn came off the bench for Bellevue West. By the end of the month, he had cracked the starting lineup and has been there ever since.
“I just did what I did and I was just able to take that spot,” Hepburn said with an air of quiet confidence.
The first tournament of the summer in the Omaha metro ever year is the Bryan Shootout. Last year, the Thunderbirds made it to the championship but came up just short in a 55-52 loss to the host Bears of Omaha Bryan.
Trailing by one with the clock running down, Bellevue West coach Doug Woodard put the ball in the freshman’s hands. From near halfcourt, Hepburn launched a pass over the top of the defense to a teammate cutting to the basket on the weak side, but he was not able to finish the potential go-ahead layup. After a foul, Bryan hit a pair of free-throws and Bellevue West’s prayer at the buzzer went unanswered, creating the final margin.
Bellevue West made it back to the championship over the weekend and this time, the Thunderbirds left no doubt with an 82-63 win over Elkhorn South that capped a 4-0 weekend.
“It feels even better to be on the winning side this year [after losing last year],” Hepburn said. “It means something, it means a lot.”
Hepburn upped his aggressiveness in the final game, exploding for 27 points on 10-of-12 from the field including 5-of-7 from deep with four boards and four assists.
“I did [come out looking for my shot] because I knew we had to win this one,” Hepburn said. "I couldn’t let this one go.”
Hepburn wasn’t the only player with Husker ties in the game on Sunday afternoon. Jace Piatkowski, the son of Nebraska basketball great Eric Piatkowski, matched Hepburn with 27 points for Elkhorn South. Eric himself was in the crowd.
Hepburn averaged 16.5 points while shooting 56.1 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 87.5 percent from the foul line. He dished out 19 assists while turning the ball over just twice in four games. Bellevue West won by an average of 22.8 points.
The Thunderbirds are one of the early favorites in Class A for 2018-19, and Hepburn is a big reason why.
Next up for Bellevue West is the Omaha Sports Academy Monday Night Summer Varsity League at the Iowa West Field House in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Each team gets two games every Monday throughout June. Bellevue West’s games will be at 6 and 7 p.m. for any fans looking to get a look at Nebraska’s first known offer in the 2021 class.