Tumultuous journey brought McKissic to Tempe

Tumultuous journey brought McKissic to Tempe

For many Sun Devil fans, the Maroon & Gold scrimmage was the first opportunity to catch a glimpse of Shaquielle McKissic in action. The 6'5" wing player was largely unknown but a scrimmage-high 33 points later, most of them coming on crowd-pleasing dunks and three-pointers, and he became the talk of that night. The once homeless McKissic looked like anything but a newcomer to the Sun Devil squad.

In order to realize his dream of playing Division I basketball, suffice to say that Shaquielle McKissic endured a roller coaster of events and emotions. Yet, now he has a newfound perspective on life and is ready to maximize the opportunity that lies ahead of in him in what will be his first and only season at Arizona State .

The Indiana native moved to the Seattle area with his mother, stepfather and younger brother during his freshman year of high school. McKissic enjoyed a solid career at Kentridge High, but received zero interest from Division I schools.

As a result, the ultra-athletic player opted to stay home and suit up for Edmonds Community College. He had an impressive freshman campaign averaging 16.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 3.6 apg. However, soon after that extraordinary season, McKissic's life slowly began to unravel.

First, he was entangled in some legal matters (which have since been resolved). As a result, he lost his financial aid and was forced to quit the basketball team due to financial hardship. During this time, his mother also divorced and moved back to Indiana with McKissic's younger brother – essentially leaving Shaquielle without any family in Washington.

Then, the biggest blow in his life came on October 31, 2010. Devin Topps, a star-athlete at Kentridge High and one of McKissic's best friends, was inexplicably shot to death at a house party.

Life had officially hit an all-time low for McKissic.

He was sad, scared, and uncertain of what the future held. He also had a more pressing issue - he was now homeless.

"Over that two-year span, I lived at ten different places and never really had a bed to call my own," McKissic explained. There was even a one-month span when he was forced to sleep in a friend's car.

Despite the tough times, he refused to play the role of a victim. McKissic readily admits he contributed to his dilemma by making poor decisions during that period. "I was immature and hard headed," McKissic recalled. "Growing up without a real father figure, I had to learn a lot of hard lessons on my own."

During this period, he rarely got the opportunity to play the game he loved so much. Even worse, it was becoming apparent that his playing career was likely over.

"I would go to sleep every night and pray to God to give me one more opportunity," he said.

That chance came prior to the 2012-13 season.

The newly hired Edmonds Community College basketball head coach Kyle Gray asked McKissic to re-join the team. Needless to say that he jumped at the opportunity and never looked back.

He did however have to muster up the funds to pay for the first semester out-of-pocket, but his financial aid was eventually reinstated. With the financial concerns behind him, McKissic was able to fully concentrate on basketball.

He decided to wear the number 40 jersey in tribute of his fallen friend and used Devin as inspiration every time he took the floor.

He dominated on the court last season putting up gaudy statistics of 22.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.8 apg, and 3.2 spg en route to being named the MVP of the NWAACC's north region.

McKissic, who had originally committed to Detroit during the season, decided to open up his recruitment in late spring and was excited about the possibilities. He sent out his highlight tape (via email) to over 100 universities and many schools showed interest.

However, the list of schools quickly narrowed down once they found out about his past issues. And even more schools withdrew once they became aware of his unique eligibility status where he has just one year remaining.

Dejected and second-guessing his decision, McKissic was wondering if he would ever realize his dream of playing at the Division I level. Then, ASU came into the picture.

Assistant coach Stan Johnson was tipped off by an old friend in the coaching ranks who urged him to take a look at McKissic. And, as they say, the rest is history.

However, the work for McKissic was only beginning. He had to complete 25 credits this summer just to become eligible for the upcoming season. Amazingly, he was able to complete the tall order and arrived to Tempe in August ready to showcase his talents and contribute to the team.

"A lot of people on the sidelines were saying my life was over because I made a lot bad decisions," McKissic noted. "But I just use that as motivation to play even harder. I realize I have an incredible opportunity here and I don't take that for granted."

The hard-work ethic and business-like approach to basketball has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

"He's a tremendous worker," said Stan Johnson. "If I'm here at 6:30 am, he's out here before anyone else. If I stay late, he's out here working on his game. He's a sponge that just wants to get better and is sincere about it. If you look at the growth he's made from the time he arrived to where he is now, it is incredible.

"It's all due to his work ethic – he just has an uncanny work ethic."

Another source of inspiration for McKissic is the recently graduated ASU player Carrick Felix, whose position McKissic he is hoping to fill. He only met Felix once, but he hopes to follow in the footsteps of the former Sun Devil player.

"Of course, I look up to him," McKissic admitted. "He's making millions now because he put in the effort that was required to make the NBA."

When asked about his future aspirations, McKissic did not dance around the topic. He made it abundantly clear that the ultimate goal is the NBA – and said he will do everything in his power to achieve his lofty goal.

McKissic is optimistic that he can make an immediate impact this season. He said he is primarily running with the first team in practice, with Jordan Bachynski, Jonathan Gilling, Jermaine Marshall, and Jahii Carson rounding out the starting five.

The ASU newcomer said he loves his new teammates, school, and city, yet will never forget his roots.

"Theoretically, I shouldn't be here, I should be a statistic," he said with a tear in his eye. "So, now I play for all my family and friends back home. They could have easily turned their backs on me during those tough times, but they didn't. Instead, they always encouraged me to get back on the court and said I could make it.

"So, now I just want to make them proud."

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