ASU's McKissic is just getting started

They'd pull into the parking lot of the 24 Hour Fitness, recline the front seats far enough so they could stretch out their legs, and sleep as best a person can when his bed is an old Cadillac Catera.

Best friends since high school, Shaquielle McKissic and Laron Daniels had created their potholed path to homelessness together. The blameless reality of financial woes may have nailed the eviction notice to the apartment door, but their own horrifically bad decision started them on the detour in the first place.

In the three weeks they called that parking lot home before they'd drift off, the two would talk. Mostly McKissic would talk, and Daniels would listen. Daniels was the first then, the first life that McKissic would change.

"He has a certain demeanor. It's not just confidence. It's more than that. It's 'I will make a way for this to happen,''' said Daniels, now both a track and basketball player at Warner Pacific, an NAIA school in Portland. "He would tell me all the time, 'I'm going to make it D-I.' Not in a cocky way; he just believed it. Now I'm the same. I don't have no quit in me. I won't give up. He taught me that.''

McKissic didn't set out to be a life changer. The only course he hoped to alter was his own.

But as he rerouted himself -- steering away from the felony conviction that robbed him of his reputation and basketball, overcoming the financial struggles and coping with the murder of a former high school teammate -- McKissic realized something:

There was a power in his perseverance.

He decided to open himself up wide, welcoming the criticism and even the skepticism he might receive in exchange for the hope he could bring others.

And now there are more, more just like Daniels. They've heard of his story or watched the brutally honest documentary, "#SM40," his brother, David, made. They've reached out through social media or through Arizona State, where McKissic is finishing his college basketball career.

"The first thing I told coach [Herb Sendek] when I got here was I want my story to be out,'' McKissic said. "If I can make it anyone can, so I didn't want to leave one detail out.''

The devil is in those details, his black magic sprinkled everywhere.

He was there, perched on McKissic's shoulder on July 6, 2009, the night he and two high school buddies, including Daniels, decided to have some fun by marauding through their Kent, Washington, neighborhood.

Why did they do it? Why did they throw a rock through a window? Even now, McKissic can't explain it. Petty jealousy of their more wealthy classmates played a part; boredom, too, but how do you explain the unexplainable? Not even the devil himself can take all of the blame. McKissic, after all, could've pushed him off his shoulder.

"You have to be responsible for the things that you do,'' McKissic's mother, Vivian Thomas, said. "He knew right from wrong when he made that choice. He had a choice. He did that. No one forced him.''

That one decision opened a karmic floodgate of hardship that threatened to swallow up McKissic's basketball career.

Hit with two years of probation (and three months in jail), McKissic had to change direction on his planned college route. Instead of Northern Idaho, a top junior college program, he enrolled at nearby Edmonds Community College.

McKissic did well there -- kept his nose clean, averaged 16.2 points per game and shone academically -- but in the second semester, his mother was forced to flee her home, the victim of a domestic assault. Without financial assistance from McKissic's stepfather and bills piling up, she eventually returned to her home state of Indiana, with McKissic's younger brother.

Worse, McKissic, only on a partial scholarship, could no longer afford school. He dropped out in the spring of 2010.

Six months later his high school friend Devin Topps was murdered following a Halloween party.

Devastated, McKissic and Daniels performed at Topps' funeral. You live on through all of us. Your legacy will never die. You are forever in our heart, they rapped.

And that was it. Rock bottom became the end of the freefall for McKissic. He vowed to get his life in order, to honor Topps' memory (he was headed to Eastern Washington to play football and McKissic still wears No. 40, his number).

For the next 18 months, McKissic took whatever job he could get, the most steady at Anthony's Seafood, a chain restaurant in town. He scrimped and saved, swapped food stamps for rent, took online courses, whatever he had to do.

Finally in the spring of 2012, he had saved enough and re-enrolled at Edmonds. A year -- 22.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and one MVP trophy later -- he earned a scholarship to Arizona State.

"It all made me desperate, but in a good way,'' McKissic said. "I think about what I went through every morning, every single morning, and probably every night. Having something and losing it, that's what keeps me going.''

Maybe the most improbable part of this entire tale is that there is a happy ending. It came this April, when the NCAA announced it would grant McKissic an extra year of eligibility.

Because he had graduated high school in 2009 and NCAA rules stipulate that an athlete has five years to play four, this past season should have been his last. Instead ASU petitioned that circumstances kept McKissic out of the sport for two years and the NCAA agreed.

"That was one of the best opportunities I've ever had as a coach,'' Sendek said. "We found out in the morning Pacific Time and I texted him. Lo and behold, it was the one day of the week he didn't have an early class, so he was sleeping. By the time I was able to get to him, it was all over social media but we just screamed into the phone and celebrated.''

The complete fairy tale would find the Sun Devils in the top 25, unbeaten and soaring with McKissic putting up All-American numbers. The reality is the Sun Devils are a good but not great 7-5 and McKissic is steady if not dominant. But McKissic prefers to deal in reality. Actually he prefers to swim in it.

No one needed to know his own twisted tale, after all. Outside of friends, family and Sendek, who did he really have to tell? Skeletons are meant to be buried in closets.

Instead McKissic walks through life with a virtual bullhorn, declaring to the world, "This is who I am. This is what I did." His Twitter page, @ShaqInTheBox is a scrolling testimony to his life's journey, with inspirational messages from him mixed with replies by others he's impressed.

He has told this story to other reporters more than once.

Just this past summer he went home to Indianapolis to shoot the documentary.

And asked the natural question -- what would he do differently -- McKissic offers a stunning response.

"Nothing,'' he said. "I'd let it all happen again.''

McKissic believes in the kismet of it all, that he struggled in order to help save others from themselves. He knows that he is the rarity, that for every one person like him who finds a way out, there are 10 others that can't or won't, but maybe if he keeps on talking, telling and retelling his story, those odds will change.

Look at them, after all; look at all of them. Daniels is averaging 9.3 points for Warner Pacific.

Thomas is home in Indianapolis, safe, happy and proud.

Topps' legacy lives on just as McKissic intended it would -- whenever anyone asks why he wears No. 40 he gets to introduce his late friend.

And McKissic?

He's just getting started.

"I'll never forget the one day we were sleeping in our car and we just bust out laughing,'' he said. "I don't know why. We knew that we were down and out, but we both knew it wasn't the end. Neither is this. This isn't the end of my story.''