- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Rock bottom for Shaquielle McKissic was not a single moment or event. It came in a two-year series of gut punches: The death of his best friend, a stint in jail, a three-week stretch of living in his car.

It was heart-breaking, soul-testing, yet McKissic does not wish any of it away. The unfortunate events, the decisions he made all shaped the person he has become, made all that he has now possible.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” McKissic said. “It could have gone a different way, could have spiraled out of control, but it worked out. I just know that if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, everything will work out.”

It sure didn’t look that way just a few years ago.

McKissic wasn’t a highly recruited player out of Kentridge High School in Kent, Washington, and was headed to play at Northern Idaho, one of the nation’s top junior college programs.

His plans were derailed by a poor decision.

While out with a group of friends, he was arrested for breaking into homes and spent three months in jail. He ended up at nearby Edmonds Community College, where he stayed out of trouble while averaging 16.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

But then his life began to unravel.

His mother was a victim of domestic abuse and left the home, eventually heading back to Indiana with his younger brother. With no money and no family with him, McKissic was forced to drop out of school and spent three weeks living in a car with a friend after being evicted from his apartment.

The crushing blow came at a Halloween party in 2010, when his best friend, Devin Topps, was shot and killed.

“Those two years were rock bottom, not knowing where the next move would come from, not knowing what the future would hold because so much was happening,” McKissic said. “But it was never a why me situation.”

While most coaches saw the red flags all around McKissic, Arizona State coach Herb Sendek saw a young man aching for redemption. There were mistakes, bad decisions, sure, but when Sendek met McKissic, he saw good, not red flags.

“He wasn’t a guy who had a lot of stars next to his name in recruiting circles, but was a humble, hungry young man who you thought if you just gave him a chance, he’s going to find a way to get it done - and he has,” Sendek said.

Now a 24-year-old senior at Arizona State, McKissic has made the most of his second chance, becoming a leader on and off the court during his two years in the desert.

The athletic 6-foot-5 forward tops Arizona State with 11.5 points per game and has become the go-to player in tight games. He has been a mature, steadying force on an inexperienced team and an example for the other junior-college players on the roster.

McKissic has excelled in the classroom as well, set to graduate with a degree in general studies, and will be joined by his mother for Senior Day before the Sun Devils’ game against California on Saturday.

“He’s like a different person,” Sendek said. “He has just blossomed as a young man.”

McKissic will be honored during Senior Day for the second straight season, though this one will have a different feel.

A year ago, McKissic was hoping the NCAA would grant him an extra year of eligibility, but he didn’t know if a hardship waiver would be granted. He went through the Senior Day ceremony, though it was clouded with an air of uncertainty.

McKissic was eventually granted another year by the NCAA and, after a successful final season, will get to enjoy the moment like any other senior - even if his route to get there was far more circuitous.

“I’m sure it will be emotional,” McKissic said. “It was a wonderful journey and for me it’s just the beginning. I feel like it’s a wonderful head start for me in life. To have been down so low to come back and end my career here at ASU is just unbelievable, really. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before.”

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