TEMPE, Ariz. — As Arizona State forward Shaquille McKissic awaited word on whether the NCAA would grant him a sixth season of eligibility, he stressed at times to the point of sickness, not knowing whether he’d play his next season at ASU or out of the country.
"I couldn’t sleep in the weeks leading up to it," McKissic said Wednesday. "It was really difficult."
When word finally came in mid-April that ASU’s appeal for McKissic was successful, a weight lifted off the former junior college transfer, and he shifted his energy back to basketball.
"I had no clue when the decision was coming, so once it finally came I think it was just a lot of excitement," McKissic said. "A million thoughts went through my mind. I was just pretty much ready to get back to work."
McKissic also endured a period of homelessness after his mother moved back to the Midwest by sleeping in his car at times and working odd jobs to pay tuition. McKissic came to ASU with just one year of eligibility but turned his life around and made the most of the opportunity, which has now been extended.
ASU coach Herb Sendek describes the experience of informing McKissic he would be back in Tempe next season as a career highlight.
"One of my best moments as a coach was when we were able to share that news with Shaq," Sendek said Wednesday. "It almost doesn’t get any better than that. That was a great moment to be a coach. He’s really appreciative of the opportunity he has."
With his mind now focused solely on basketball, McKissic is determined to make a big leap in his second season with the Sun Devils. After averaging 9 points per game last season, McKissic is poised to be one of ASU’s top scoring options.
"I really feel like there’s no ceiling," McKissic said. "I’m just working every day to come back and prove a lot of people wrong about ASU next year."
McKissic said coaches have used former ASU swingman and junior college product Carrick Felix as a blueprint for how much McKissic could improve next season, emphasizing how hard Felix worked in the offseason.
Sendek said he has been keeping tabs on former ASU players Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski via Twitter as they work out for NBA teams ahead of the NBA Draft later this month.
Been to some many cities I forget what city I'm in sometimes 😩😂😂
"They’ve both been America’s guest," Sendek joked. "It seems like they’re in a different city almost every day."
Carson, ASU’s star the past two seasons, has worked out for several teams and is seen as a late second round prospect. Bachynski, too, has had several workouts but seems more likely to go undrafted and battle for a roster spot in training camp.
Only so much can be gleaned from whats said by coaches or executives after the workouts, Sendek said.
"Teams typically keep their cards close to the vest, and if they lay a card down sometimes it’s to throw somebody off as much as it is to reveal something," Sendek said. "Both guys feel like they’ve done well in the workouts, but things continue to change. What I’ve learned in the past is even on draft night the unexpected can happen and things can still change."
Last year’s draft produced a surprise for ASU when Felix was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers 33rd overall — much higher than projections suggested he would be. Sendek, who has a heard a bit from NBA teams about his players, refused to speculate on Carson’s true draft value in relation to projections.
"There’s only 30 voices that matter," Sendek said. "Everybody else’s opinion is totally irrelevant.
Sendek, who met with local media members for about 40 minutes Wednesday, has been impressed so far by the work ethic of transfers Savon Goodman (UNLV), Roosevelt Scott (Indian Hills Community College) and Willie Atwood (Connors State CC). The trio practices independently in the gym at ASU’s Weatherup Center almost daily.
"They’re passionate about basketball, they’re eager to get better, and they hit the floor running here," Sendek said. "We’re really excited about their addition to our team."
Under Sendek, ASU has increasingly turned to transfers and junior college players. This, Sendek says, is a product of the current landscape of college basketball in which players often spend no more than two seasons at one school.
"If somebody’s really good, like a James Harden or a Jahii Carson, you have them for two years," Sendek said. "If they’re not that good and they’re not playing that much they transfer, so you might have them for two years. And then because there’s all these guys out there in the spring who are transferring, if you take a transfer you probably have them for two years. And if you take a junior college player, you probably have them for two years."