By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
One week ago, the 29-year-old Shaq Mc Kissic hadn’t played a single EuroLeague game in his career. On Tuesday (3/3) the newly-acquired Olympiacos guard found himself being a starter in the thick of one of the mightiest battles of the competition. The derby against historic archrival Panathinaikos.
From the very first moments when McKissic stepped on the floor, he made his purpose clear. There were obvious readiness and eagerness to deliver big time. Sheer amounts of energy that he put on the court. Positive body language. Animated reactions every time he pulled off one of his many electric plays. An overall fearless mindset.
McKissic looked like a man who waited for this kind of game his whole life.
“For sure. To play in all the leagues that I’ve played and all of the big matches? It’s something that gets you excited,” McKissic told Eurohoops. “But this is the… pinnacle. To go from Maccabi to this being my second game it’s really unbelievable. You know… you got to embrace the moment.”
And embrace the moment he did. McKissic didn’t simply contribute but emerged as a leading presence of Olympiacos in the win over the “Greens”: A game-high 22 points, ferocious amounts of moxie, ball-snatching action that led to transition highlights, and buckets during crunch time.
With the score 73 – 72 and 90 seconds to play, McKissic soared for the dunk when Octavius Ellis got the offensive rebound and held back Ioannis Papapetrou, clearing the airstrip just enough for his teammate to be good for takeoff. Moments afterward, the American guard penetrated into the basket and beat Dinos Mitoglou’s defense for the tough layup and one.
“It’s really hard. But it’s something that I’ve been doing my whole life. To go into that extra gas tank for more energy,” McKissic said.
McKissic had begun putting on a show much earlier. Just two minutes into the game, he grabbed a defensive rebound and sprinted coast to coast to throw down the first of his four dunks. A sign of things to come.
In the second half, there were times when it actually looked like McKissic was transforming this demanding, “dog eats dog” EuroLeague clash of the highest order and major importance for both teams into his own personal Slam Dunk Contest.
For McKissic, it simply felt natural to ruthlessly attack the rim after taking notice of even the slightest semblance of a gap on Panathinaikos‘ defense and with the tiniest of opportunities appearing in front of him. “When I see the lane open… I just come alive,” McKissic declared.
Meanwhile, with every drive he made to the basket and every thunderous dunk he threw down, fans inside and outside of the “Peace and Friendship” arena, in social media, were going bonkers.
“It feels amazing,” McKissic said on the fan reactions. “It’s a lot of pressure. But I just got to stay in this jam and continue to get better. If I come back next year, I got to be ready for the highs and the lows. The ups and the downs. Right now, it seems to be going up.”
While McKissic had done his homework when it comes to what this game means for his club, he admitted that he still wasn’t completed aware of how big this clash is.
“No,” McKissic answered when asked if he had fully realized exactly how crucial this match before tipoff. “I think this one of those things. Once again I’ll get on social media and see everything, I’ll understand it more. Everybody told me, but it still feels unreal.”
What also looked unreal was how he performed in just the second EuroLeague match of his career. Small wonder that he earned significant praise by Panathinaikos coach Rick Pitino after the game. The Hall of Famer actually commented on McKissic as being “one of the best pickups” he’s seen in EuroLeague.
“I recently switched the beacon. Just because I didn’t want the opportunity come and my body not being able to hold it,” McKissic said. “When I’m 34-35, I still want to play in EuroLeague.”
Given his high-flying action, I joked with McKissic on whether there were any hidden springs underneath his shoes. “Yes,” McKissic said before bursting into laughter. “You have to guard the shoes, always. I put them in the box. I have to protect them.”