TEMPE, Ariz. — Coming off the bench came as quite a shock to Shaquielle McKissic when it happened about a month ago. It was not the way he expected to spend his first year at Arizona State, his only year of Division I eligibility, after cramming the necessary 25 hours into summer school to get the associate’s degree he needed in order to transfer.
McKissic has responded so well that he might not be coming off the bench much longer.
He set a career-high with 19 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts in ASU’s 97-55 victory over Grambling at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday, the second straight game in which he has done that after posting his first double-double at DePaul on Dec. 6.
Jermaine Marshall had 16 points, Jordan Bachynski had 15 (with 14 rebounds) and Jahii Carson had 14 for ASU (9-2), which ended the first half on an 18-point run for a 52-28 lead and was able to rest its starters for the final 10 minutes or so.
McKissic lead the team in scoring for the second straight contest; both big games have come after he did not play against Miami in the final game of the Wooden Legacy on Dec. 1, his fifth straight game as a reserve.
“I started coming off the bench, and that’s not something I am really accustomed to,” said McKissic, the league MVP at Edmonds (Wash.) Community College in the Seattle area last year.
“I talked to the coaches. There was no bitterness or envy or jealousy or anything like that. I know hard work conquers all. They told me what I did wrong and what I need to improve on, and I basically just went in there and got after. Just stayed in the gym before practice, after practice. Did a lot more listening than acting.”
McKissic is in the Carrick Felix mold when it comes to athleticism — his Twitter handle is @shaqinthebox for his leaping ability — and he got back to the basics, basically.
“I just stuck to my routine. I got away for it when we were busy on the road. Getting up the same amount of shots. Doing the same amount of dribbling. Cardio, and a lot of film,” he said.
For a guy whose course load this summer included pre-calculus, world mythology and anthropology, it was a snap.
“When you are not playing, don’t pout,” Bachynski said. “Go to work like Shaq did. He is there every day before and after practice. That takes dedication.”
McKissic’s long road to ASU has had more challenges than that. After graduating from Seattle’s Kentridge High in 2009, he signed with Northern Idaho College but did not enroll, choosing Edmonds instead. After a strong first season, he lost his scholarship because of off-court issues. His mother moved to Indiana, leaving McKissic without family or a place to call his home. One of his best friends was shot to death in a house party, and at one point, McKissic was forced to live in a friend’s car for a month.
He spent two years away from the game, but things changed for the better when the new coach at Edmonds asked him to come out for the team last season. He scored 22.5 points a game to pique interest from West Virginia and ASU, then passed his 25 hours to gain one season at the Division I level.
“Shaq is an incredibly hard worker,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.
“I think he has an unassuming heart. A grateful heart. He knows he has to jam-pack a whole career into one year. So when you only have one year and you have traveled the path he has to get here, every day is important to him. Every game is the Super Bowl. Every practice matters. He’s always in the gym on his own. I just love the way he approaches it.”
Coaches mentioned rebounding, driving the ball and kicking to an open shooter, and defensive intensity as areas of improvement. For McKissic, part of the process involved finding a role within the system after being the go-to guy in high school and junior college.
“I was easing in. I didn’t want to be that guy who comes on a team and tries to be Batman or anything like that. I was just playing it by ear,” McKissic said. “I think that Miami game, that just turned something on inside of me. I haven’t looked back since.”
After meeting McKissic and getting to know him, Sendek said finding a scholarship for him was a no-brainer.
“We’ve all made mistakes,” Sendek said. “Some of us have had more more opportunities than others. Some of us have traveled straighter roads than others, not by our own doing but for fortune. When it comes to some, like Shaq, you just try to get to know him.
“When you do that and you get a sense for his heart, then it is not a difficult decision.”
When you are not playing, don’t pout. Go to work like Shaq did. He is there every day before and after practice. That takes dedication.
Jordan Bachynski on ASU teammate Shaquielle McKissic