By Antonis Stroggylakis / email@example.com
Huge confidence is one of the things that define Olympiacos Piraeus swingman Shaq McKissic. And that immense amount of faith extends to both his own capabilities as well as the potential of his team in the upcoming EuroLeague season.
“All respect to the other [EuroLeague] teams because a lot of teams got better, but… I think we’re already the best and it’s yet to be known if we’ll remain the best,” McKissic told Eurohoops. He was asked if he believes that Olympiacos, the 2023 EuroLeague finalist and top-seeded team in the regular season, is still a contender given the departures of MVP Sasha Vezenkov (to the Sacramento Kings) and star contributor Kostas Sloukas (to Olympiacos‘ archrival Panathinaikos Athens).
“I see the same team in the locker room,” McKissic said. “Of course we miss Sasha. You can’t replace something like that. Him as a person and him as a player. That’s hard to replace. But we’re going to get them from other places.” He also sent a warning to other teams regarding the defensive prowess of Olympiacos, especially considering the presence of big men Moustapha Fall and Nikola Milutinov.
“I think we bulked up on defense in ways I don’t think anybody’s prepared for,” MacKissic added.
McKissic also talked about being now a veteran of Olympiacos who will serve as a guide to newcomers and whether there’s a necessity to add new elements to his game as the years pass and the athleticism that characterizes him as a player begins to wane. He also commented on archrival Panathinaikos making a parade of impressive signings.
Eurohoops: First thing’s first. This is a thing many Olympiacos fans are wondering about because you haven’t been active in the preseason so far. How’s your health situation now that we speak?
Shac McKissic: According to me my health is perfect. I’m just trusting the process. A lot of early mornings in the weight room. Just getting prepared for this upcoming season.
EH: You haven’t played in any preseason game of Olympiacos. But the SuperCup is next. First title of the season. Also probably against Panathinaikos as well so it’s a big deal.
Right now, do you feel ready to play in the SuperCup?
S.M.: Do I feel ready. I always feel ready. Whether
EH: What I meant by ready, is if you feel physically ready.
S.M: Ah, physically ready. I would say so.
EH: I don’t know if you were aware of that. After Kostas Papanikolaou you are the longest-standing member of Olympiacos. Have you realized that? Thought about it?
S.M.: Yeah, man. I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. Some I miss, some I don’t. I think right now we’ve gone to that point where there’s a lot of returning players. Year, year. Hopefully we’re going to keep that tradition of me not having many teammates. I like to be familiar with the guys around me.
I’m aware of that.
EH: There haven’t been many years that you are on the team but you are a kind of veteran on the team, considering what I said about you and Kostas Papanikolaou. Do you feel that also your role is changing in that department?. Do you feel that maybe you are becoming a veteran and also one of the leaders that have to be more vocal on the locker room. Saying something extra things other players?
S.M.: I get it. I’m 33 now, I’m getting older. I still feel young though. But when you got guys like Brazdeikis that come in, I think that’s really my job kind of explaining the ropes, taking them under my wing and letting them know how things go around here. You know, I think that’s my job as a veteran.
EH: You gave me a pass, in a sort of way to ask you this question. You said you are getting older. You are a player who’s using his athleticism, his speed. You have been the best slasher of Olympiacos, one of the best slashers and maybe the best in-game dunker in Europe this last couple of years. But it’s natural for this athleticism and speed to be waning as the years pass.
How do you handle this as a player? Do you feel that there are some kind of elements that you need to implement in your game?
S.M.: That’s a really good question. For me, I think every year I run into new problems with people’s perception of me. ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that’. I don’t go out there to prove them wrong, I just go out there to be the best version of myself. I think until my body betrays me, I’ll just keep getting better and better. Even from the first year that I got here, I’ve got better over the last seasons. And I plan this to be one of my best years.
So to answer your question, the athleticism… I hope it’s still there but even if it’s not… good luck to everybody.
EH: What I meant basically with this question is if there are any specific elements you put in your game. For example last season – that’s the way I saw your game at least – I was watching you pass the ball a lot more after doing the drives to the basket, I saw you looking for your teammates.
S.M.: I think if you go back to my younger years I had a bigger role. For whatever reason now over the past two years my role has been limited due to us having certain players, certain big-time guys. You know, the roster has turned over, flipped over, we’re adding new pieces so I don’t know what I’ll have to add to my game that the coach will need me to do this season. But I’m sure, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to fulfill the role that he places upon me.
EH: How important was it for you to renew your contract before the offseason?
S.M.: For me, it was important just for the comfort of living in Athens. Honestly, I think this is the best any family can live. For me, I didn’t want to play anywhere else. A lot of players are shy about saying that. But for me, I have amazing coaches, amazing presidents, amazing teammates, amazing city, amazing friends. If I asked anything, it’s almost being greedy.
EH: Last season Olympiacos was widely considered one of the best if not the best offensive team in EuroLeague. You made the Final Four, lost the championship because of one shot that did go in, one shot that didn’t go in. Last-second details. In Greece, you rolled over all competition.
Given the departures of Sasha Vezenkov and Kostas Sloukas, two very important players for this team, do you think you can such retain such a highly successful level of basketball? Are you still a contender in EuroLeague?
S.M.: I see the same team in the locker room. Of course, we miss Sasha. You can’t replace something like that. Him as a person, him as a player. That’s hard to replace. But we’re going to get it from other places. I think we bulked up on defense in ways I don’t think anybody’s prepared for. When I look in the locker room I see guys like Moustapha Fall, Nikola Milutinov. I don’t know the game plans of other teams. I’m pretty sure there will be some strategy there.
But I would be afraid to go against either one of them. Knowing that if we stay healthy, you’re going to have to face one of them every single night. That’s going to be very difficult for teams. I don’t know why is this looked over.
I have extreme faith in this team. It’s unbelievable how much faith I have in this team. I called it the last two years. First year, when Sasha and Sloukas came, we got [Thomas] Walkup, Fall. I said that this is a Final Four team. Last year, I said that we’re going to finish first in EuroLeague. This year, hopefully we’ll win the EuroLeague, that’s the plan. We got as good chances as anybody else.
All respect to the other teams because a lot of teams got better. But I think we’re already the best and it’s yet to be known if we’ll remain the best.
EH: You first became a favorite with Olympiacos fans because in one of your first appearances you had a fantastic game in a win over Panathinaikos and that matters a lot as you are well aware now. It was thanks to your performances consistently against Panathinaikos that you became a fan favorite. Now, the Panathinaikos that you and Olympiacos are going to face this year will be a lot of different.
S.M.: They are always a lot different.
EH: Now they are stronger, at least on paper – they made some big signings, quality signings. How do you feel about that and about this new challenge that the archrival is going to pose on Olympiacos?
S.M.: Man, that’s a good question. There’s so much uncertainty. Every year when Pana makes a new team, we make a new team and you never know what to expect. In our minds we think we’re the best. In their minds, we think they think that they are the best. With that being said… I just hope it’s fun. Give the fans what they want on both sides. The last two years, I don’t think it was a representation of what that club means to Greek basketball. But I think we raised our profile and we put all of Europe on notice. That we’re here and we’re here to stay.
As far as the rivalry, I’m excited. I still think we’re the better team. I still think we should win the majority of the games. Nobody in our locker room is scared of them. Every time I go to the PANA arena, I love it, I feed off it, I embrace it. So, I hope the first game is sold out,. Completely.