Call it motherly instinct, but Dorothea Epps always knew her son, Aaron, would end up in coaching.
"He really likes the X's and O's," she said. "He just loves the kids and they can feel that. I think right from the beginning I knew he was destined to be a coach. He just had that knack for it.
"Not every basketball player can be a good coach. You can be a great basketball player and not be a very good coach. He had all of the aspects that you need to be a good coach."
Aaron is in his first season as head girls basketball coach at Hempfield Area after a one-year stint at Kiski Area, his first job as a head coach. Prior to his breaking-in with the Cavaliers, he was an assistant for eight seasons under Dorothea, who has been coach at Butler Area for 10 seasons.
There have been plenty of coaching combinations in the WPIAL, but the Epps' mother-son tandem is believed to be a WPIAL first.
Getting started in coaching was pretty much a no-brainer for Aaron. Besides, when your mother asks, what else are you supposed to do?
"My mom ran an AAU organization and I was coaching a boys AAU team under her organization and I liked it," Aaron said. "My mom was an assistant with Jonna Burke [at Butler] and Jonna left for Bethel Park. My mom asked me in her first year of coaching if I wanted to coach and I really enjoyed coaching so I jumped on board."
The Eppses had a very successful run coaching the Golden Tornado.
In their first season together, Dorothea and Aaron guided Butler to an 8-4 record in Class AAAA Section 3, 14-12 overall. After a down season the following year, they began a run of five consecutive winning seasons with five playoff berths. Included in that tear was a three-year stretch of three consecutive section championships from 2007-10, a 35-1 section record and an overall record of 60-13.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," Aaron said of coaching with his mother. "I cherished every moment of it. I learned so much. We're both very competitive but the thing was, she's still my mother. She was a coach on the floor but a mother at home. There was good balance.
"I was blessed because having your mother as the head coach you're allowed to do more than a lot of other assistants. My mother gave me a lot of free rein and let me coach. She wasn't a micro-manager. She basically let me coach the offense. There were things that I could do that I know a lot of other assistant coaches couldn't do if they were in the same position."
And Dorothea wouldn't have it any other way.
"It was great," she said. "He knew me and he knew what I was thinking so sometimes he could tell me what I was thinking before I even thought it. It worked out really well. I know that he learned a lot because as a young assistant going in, you're just trying to learn the game. And I also learned some from him, too.
"He brought a lot of energy. The girls loved playing for him. And how much better could you have it that you have your son sitting on the bench with you."
Which often times made for some interesting dinner conversations in the Epps household.
Sports have been the main topic for the Eppses from the beginning. Father Paul played basketball at Waynesburg College, Dorothea was the all-time leading scorer after her playing days at Fairchance-Georges High School (now Albert Gallatin), daughter Krystal ran track at Pitt after winning two WPIAL championships in the 800 and Aaron was a member of the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 and an honorable mention All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference selection as a senior point guard at Slippery Rock University.
Having two high school coaches plus Paul, who also coached the Butler ninth-grade team at the time, under the same roof, it wasn't difficult to figure out what the topic of conversation was.
"Basketball," Dorothea said with a laugh. "My poor daughter, that's all she heard in evenings. Even though you try to stay away from it, it always crept up into your conversations."
"We always talked X's and O's," said Aaron, 32. "It's constant. But we're also very family oriented. We don't always just talk basketball. We try to sometimes leave basketball alone but somehow, some way basketball always seems to come back up in conversation."
But this season there has been an even bigger topic of conversation.
Hempfield has wrapped up the Class AAAA Section 1 championship and stands 13-0 heading into its conference finale tonight at Latrobe. Butler, meanwhile, has secured a playoff spot and stands 8-3 in Section 1 heading into Friday night's finale against rival Seneca Valley.
A first-time head-to-head matchup is a distinct possibility as the two Epps guide their teams into the WPIAL postseason tournament.
"I personally would not like to play [Butler] in the playoffs just because somebody would have to lose," Aaron said. "If we won, I wouldn't be happy to see my mother go out. If it happens, though, we're definitely going to compete and go out and try to win the game."
"That's not what you want," Dorothea said of the possible matchup against her son, "but I just hope it's at the WPIAL finals. I don't want to see him anytime before that."
And who would have the coaching advantage?
"He knows me pretty well, but I always have a trick or two up my sleeve," Dorothea said with a laugh. "You can't give him everything. You have to hold back a few things."
Rick Davis: email@example.com or 412-236-3789.