Taking off with Shaquielle McKissic

Cesare Milanti
12 min readMar 26, 2022

Olympiacos is back to scare many big teams in Euroleague: the return to the playoffs is also thanks to Shaq, with a film story behind him.

Statement from the beginning (Euroleague Basketball)

Calathes administers the dribble, as he usually does. He tries to make an assist on the glass for Papagiannis who would have immediately entered the highlights of the match, but the power is too much and the Greek center can not catch the ball. The rebound is captured by Shaquielle McKissic in the second game with this jersey. He had started the season in Turkey, with Besiktas, leaving more than one spectator stunned, such as when at the home of the most fit team in Europe, the Anadolu Efes of a Shane Larkin version MVP - in this regard, I recommend this documentary - he had put 38 points, with 8 rebounds and 4 assists: a dominant performance, as a man who craves challenges with a more spicy taste.

I was saying, Shaquielle McKissic catches that rebound and kicks off the opposing counterattack. Not even two minutes on the clock when he puts the ball on the ground. The Panathinaikos team is unbalanced, because both Calathes and Papagiannis can not recover in a short time after the offensive attempt a few moments before: Deshaun Thomas gets back, Ioannis Papapetrou - former of the reversed jersey challenge compared to a Greek with some importance with the 7 - and Andy Rautins do their best to stop the advance of the one who, behind his back, has twice the number of the legend which he shares the locker room with.

It is perceived that he is about to make an important gesture, those who call a certain game “statement game”. But perhaps it is too early to impose itself so in a stage of such importance, both in the immediate but above all until the next meeting between these two: it is decided which colors can be dyed the Acropolis in Athens, if the white will affix the red or the green. Shaq chose the first option: he takes speed, no one is going to stand between his personal initiative and the basket, so much so that when he detaches from the free throw line, the Piraeus is already standing.

McKissic takes off, holds the ball in his right hand, sinks it into the net and lands. A second and little more than pure adrenaline, the spectacular start of a game - in which he will take off on two other occasions, here and here - which he tells me about in these terms: “Out of all the ones I played, I think the derby that left me more impressed was the first one, just because I didn’t know what to expect and I went there playing so well, kinda creating this legend that when I play against Pana I turn in something like a superhuman. For me, I have the upper hand on all the other guys that played Pana throughout the years, cause people tend to believe that I become superhuman when I play them (he laughs, ed)”. At the end of that homemade fireworks debut, he had said: “Its’s crazy, because I used to play with these guys on NBA 2K: Printezis, Papanikolaou, Spanoulis… to be their teammates eight or nine years later, playing in this atmosphere, it’s really unbelievable. It’s crazy”.

Two other significant acts of the eternal (basketball, and not only) rivalry that you can breathe in Athens arrived between the end of February and the third week of March 2022. The first with the victory of the Greek Cup, which was missing to the Reds for 11 years, and the second with an exclamation point that reeks both of definitive promotion for the group of Georgios Bartzokas as of glaring rejection for the team of Dimitris Priftis: an hot 101-73, with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists for McKissic. Oly in Paradise, Pana in the hell of Piraeus. An atmosphere that Shaquielle has now learned to live under his skin: “It’s literally no pressure for me because I always feel like we’re gonna win. But it’s so hard to describe what’s the feeling of actually playing a game like this, the meaning is amazing, incredible. It’s something you really can’t describe. I’ve been considering that fans are crazy and nobody can feel what it is to actually be in that atmosphere in that arena. In both sides, either it’s in OAKA or in our home. I don’t know the words, unbelievable. Unbelievable”.

Returning for a moment to the first of these two Greek stracittadine, despite it was not the race from the debut impact or the absolute domination that was seen a few weeks away in Euroleague, it had a special flavor for Shaq: “It was the first championship I ever won in my life. To do that on that stage with this team it can’t really be matched. For what I feel like, to the Greek fans and to win in that moment, after so many years of not having the Greek Cup, what else could I want? The Greek Championship, Euroleague… I think it made us all believe, you know. I don’t think that this team believes that if we go to the playoffs we are gonna lose. I think everybody believes we are gonna win and go to the Final Four, where anything can happen”. Euroleague Final Four? Season from annals? Awareness? Let’s make a necessary stepback.

Dangerous pair (Euroleague Basketball)

I call Shaquielle McKissic, after having agreed on Instagram and a couple of “Let’s do it, man”, shortly after the security checks that all the players and staff of Olympiacos passed at the Berlin airport, in the aftermath of a surprising setback against ALBA, dragged by a spectacular Maodo Lo. Yes, an unexpected defeat, because if you take into consideration the European campaign of the Reds this season, it can only follow a standing ovation.

In what is the first a.S. year in Athens, with the retirement of a living legend like Vassilis Spanoulis, hero first at Panathinaikos and then playing with their rivals, the team coached by Georgios Bartzokas - already on the bench to pack the last continental triumph of this team, in the 2013 Final Four held in London - has established itself immediately as one of the teams to beat in one of the most competitive Euroleague editions ever: the summer arrivals of Tyler Dorsey, Thomas Walkup and Moustapha Fall, in addition to certainties like Kostas Sloukas and Sasha Vezenkov, have certified a change of pace that has been noted on more than one occasion in the season.

An explosive change of pace, if we consider that among the protagonists of this roster there is one of the most electrifying figures of the entire European scene. But he has never been taken anything for granted, as often happens in stories like his: “For me the biggest thing is just kinda being here and proving to myself that I belong. It was a long road coming, especially to the Euroleague. It was very difficult to prove myself and to everybody that I belong here: that’s everybody’s journey, every year a new season and you kinda alwats gotta prove that you belong here. I felt that I did that every year, so to me that’s the biggest accomplishment”. A journey full of pitfalls, as pointed out by himself, started at these latitudes in the Italian championship. In 2015, after a couple of years with an important contribution to Arizona State, Shaquielle McKissic arrives in Italy, at the Victoria Libertas Pesaro of Riccardo Paolini, with teammates such as Semaj Christon and Trevor Lacey, who “impressed me the most”.

Italian dunker (Ciamillo-Castoria)

The debut comes on the 4th of October 2015 against Scandone Avellino, coached by Pino Sacripanti - who in the that season would welcome the return of Marques Green - and, despite the defeat, it is a detonating landing in our championship: 29 points, 10 rebounds and 5/10 from the arc, last to surrender of his own team. A race and a parenthesis in LBA that he reminds with these words: “Back then that game was the one that gave me the confidence to really kinda believe that I belong overseas and I was able to play. We had a few preseason games and they went really well, but of course it’s preseason. So to go there, even though we lost against a great team, with the MVP of that season James Nunnally in there,t hat was just kinda my coming out moment. Seven years ago, wow… time flies!”.

Shaquielle McKissic did it

Yet the trajectory that Shaquielle defines as “similar” to many of his colleagues, in his case goes far beyond a difficult climb on the fields of half the world - he has played, so far, in Italy, South Korea, Turkey (in three different teams), Spain and Russia - until you get to a coveted stage like the Euroleague. McKissic, in fact, passed in the following order: a childhood without his father, a move from Indiana to Seattle to follow his mother and his new partner, the decision to live alone once his mother divorced, almost a month being homeless, the death of the best friend for a gunshot wound - he wore the number 40 jersey in several of his adventures to pay homage - and two years of probation, over three months in prison, for some thefts.

Not to mention the countless jobs (all different from each other, from a waiter to a job in a furniture store) that he carried out in complete autonomy to pay for enrollment in Edmonds Community College, alongside a constant growth in the field. Growth that, if we consider the athletic point of view, had arrived in the years of High School, in Kentridge: “That just came with the whole package, you know (he laughs, ed). When I was in high school I had to walk up this big hill and I had to walk down every single morning when I was at Kentridge High School. So, to make it easier cause I had this backpack full of books I just walked up in backwards. And I already had a good strenght, but that in my opinion zoomed it to an unbelievable level. Two hundreds days straight just walking up to and from school. What I saw was the task that was really developing my future in my opinion, that was the first method. I had to give that credit”.

Focused (Euroleague Basketball)

After Kentridge and Edmonds, he finally gets the call of a prestigious college like Arizona State, where he will be granted a waiver to play a sixth college year to learn even more. On the field, of course, because outside the parquet Shaquielle was already a very mature boy. I definitely understand it when he says these words to me: “To get here I lost two really close friends, so that just gave me the motivation every time I go out there to play. In the starting five or just coming into the game, that’s all I prove: the opportunity that I have and a lot of people don’t have, with both them here or gone. So to me it’s a huge moment and accomplishment, everything that I’ve been through: being an homeless for example, it created this opportunity for me. It’s a beautiful thing cause this helps me taking care of my family, so that’s number one”.

The most significant words, however, probably were being told in the Focus On produced by Euroleague on him, which I recommend you look at, and inside which there are also commendable words of his coach in red and white. Anyway, here’s the story of his trajectory to those microphones: “Basketball really saved me in a lot of those situations: after everything that you go through you still have those nightmares of waking up in jail or running from the police. What would I be doing if I wasn’t playing basketball? I don’t know, I probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am now, for sure. I grew up with a single mom, she went to work everyday from 6 in the morning to 6 in the night. Looking around and seeing other people situations it was always just a little bit different. I hated the fact that we were living in Indiana, the brotherhood that I had created there about to going to high school… it was frustrated for sure. Once we finally got to Seattle, the first school I went to was in a rough neighborhood and coming from where I came, being introduced straight into that, my entire mentality changed. You got people bringing guns to school and you got fights everyday, with people trying to test if I was gonna fall. Like I said I grew up in a family who had around gains, drugs… I knew so much of that for sure. When my mom decided to leave, I just decided to stay there to figure it out: that was just my mentality. That’s when I decided like “Okay, now I’m about to start taking things that are necessarily mine”. It was just survival. At first, it started off small and from there… I think it just created a monster inside of me, now I’m about to go after my dreams, trying to pursuit as hard as I can, just not looking back”. Do not stop to look back: a necessary key.

Learning from a legend

Since Piraeus started collecting trophies on trophies, there is one man in particular who has been largely thanked for what he has done on the field during a stratospheric career. Best scorer of all time in the Euroleague, a player that everyone should have admired live. There are those, like Shaquielle McKissic, who had the honor and privilege to share the locker room of the Peace and Friendship Stadium, as well as dozens of stages around Europe, with him.

I hear his voice tremble when he tells me about Vassilis Spanoulis: “To me, to play with a legend like Spanoulis was a once in a lifetime thing. It’s like the Kobe of Greece and Euroleague: to play with somebody who accomplished so much… I’m playing these games and I’m thinking to myself “How did he do all of this?”. The shots that he made, the points that he scored, the assists: it’s unbelievable. But I think he was really a God amongs men. I tried to took everything from him. He seems immortal, he’s very wise and it’s truly nothing playin. Not even playing next to him in the games, it’s learning from everyday in practice. It’s an experience you can’t even describe to anybody. What can I say, it’s like playing with Kobe Bryant!”.

McKissic and his idol, teammate (Euroleague Basketball)

And in what, as mentioned earlier, is the first season without him, it seems that the teachings of Kill Bill have done well to the whole group. From our chat, McKissic and his team-mates put in three wins and one loss, continuing the road to the court advantage in the Euroleague playoffs that have officially arrived after the definitive exclusion of the Russian teams from the competition, with the 77 that did not stop flying over the rim.

On his Instagram profile, after winning the Greek Cup, Shaq posted a picture with his little Foreign Jermaine with the caption “1/3”, like unfinished business. But what will come after Olympiacos? He tells me that he does not know what the future holds, but the ideas for the post-career are very clear: “Right now I’m just focused on basketball and my podcast off the court, which name is “Players Choice”, #15 in America on the Apple charts: that’s just kinda where I’m pushing right now. I do wanna start a media company and I think it will be really successfull, I’m trying myself to be creative and that’s to figure out. But it’s part of basketball, I’m just gonna play as long as I can, as long as the game allows me. But I’m looking forward to the day that it’s over, but I’m happy that I’m still playing”.

This also means tracing a path, marking a trajectory that takes you from the bad neighborhoods of Seattle to one of the basketball cities by definition in the Old Continent. From muggings and murders to dunks in the open court. Shaquielle McKissic learned to take off away from troubles.

Business as usual in Piraeus (Euroleague Basketball)



Cesare Milanti

22 years old, 2 books, 1 Erasmus in Bilbao. Here some non-basketball related stuff (in italian) and the translations of some of my basketball articles.