From childhood adversaries to teammates: McKissic, Appleby pushing each other once again with Gators
A familiar name stood out to Brandon McKissic when the St. Louis-area native gazed at the Florida men’s basketball roster prior to transferring from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.
It was that of senior point guard Tyree Appleby, another former transfer from the midwest.
"I've known App since probably like third or fourth grade,” McKissic revealed. “He was from Arkansas and I'm from Missouri. So, you know, just playing growing up, AAU basketball, we always crossed paths, a lot of times. Like there's a lot of times, I remember playing him in the semifinals or the championship game of the tournament.
“You never miss him. I couldn't dodge a tournament without seeing him.”
The former competitors are now teammates after McKissic, a Ferguson, Missouri, native, followed Appleby’s lead and transferred to the program. After hearing from UF coach Mike White about the possibility of joining the program for the 2021-22 season, McKissic got right to work on gathering information, which meant placing a call to Appleby.
“We developed that relationship over that time and, you know, I got that call from Coach White, I called him, probably, like, in a couple hours like 'Yo, what's up?',” McKissic recalled. “So it was all good.”
But Appleby isn’t a coach — he’s a pesky competitor who excels with the ball in his hands, as does McKissic. And he’s cognizant of the fact that what’s good for him may not be beneficial for everyone, including McKissic, so there were no pleas on that phone call, only business.
The entirety of McKissic’s recruitment fell solely on White's shoulders.
"He wasn't gonna persuade me no type of way, he was just like, you know, 'it's a great opportunity,” McKissic said of his conversation with Appleby. “And he wasn't lying about that, so I just kept going through my process, because ultimately the decision was mine, 100 percent on me. So, I told my parents, told everybody who was trying to be in my ear, you know, it was 100% between me and Coach White, honestly."
It should come as no surprise, seeing as he’s just weeks away from taking the court for the Gators, but White’s pitch worked. Having lost six players from last season’s team – seven including forward Keyontae Johnson – meant an abundance of playing time available, and McKissic knew it.
Yet that – an opportunity – was the extent of White’s promise to McKissic; there were no ostentatious presentations, nor were there guarantees of a certain role on the team.
White simply pointed to the recent success of UF’s transfers – Appleby, Colin Castleton and Kerry Blackshear Jr. come to mind – as evidence the Gators were a desirable destination for McKissic.
“He said he would give me the opportunity to play. His track record, he had guys come in, grad transfers, and they played well. That was one of the things he told me. He said sometimes you go to programs and, you know, the grad transfers will get playing time or they won’t. I’ve been in situations like that where the grad transfers at our school didn’t play much because they didn’t perform the way they were expected,” McKissic said of White’s recruiting pitch. “He told me he was going to give me an opportunity and it’s just what I do with it, you know? That’s what I think about every day. What am I going to do with this opportunity? It wasn’t no promises, and I didn’t want a promise. I just wanted the opportunity to showcase what I can do at a higher level.”
To make the most of his chance, McKissic would have to compete with the one player he knew prior to arriving in Gainesville. The on-court battles with Appleby over the past month have made McKissic a bit nostalgic for their childhood duels.
“Going against App, that feels like just growing up. I grew up again playing against him my whole life, you know, so it was just like knowing him all my life and going against him,” McKissic said. “We know, regardless of what happens in practice, we're just pushing each other to get better, day in and day out.”
He’s less than three weeks away from making his Power-Six debut when the Gators open the season Nov. 9 against Elon University, and there’s significant optimism internally that this UF team will be dominant on the defensive end.
Three of the team’s four transfers are regarded as highly intelligent defenders; McKissic was the 2021 Summit League conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Phlandrous Fleming was named DPOY in the Big South conference in both the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 season, and CJ Felder finished his sophomore season at Boston College with 41 blocks and a 18.9 percent defensive rebound rate.
The bar is high when it comes to shutting down the opposition.
"We have a very high, very high ceiling with the defense capability,” McKissic said. “You talk about Phlan, you talk about Colin, you go to (Anthony Duruji), you got CJ, me, App, you know there's a lot of guys, and Niels (Lane). The list just goes on, like, we have a very, very high ceiling defensively."
This is the role he sought when entering the transfer portal – contributing at the next level and seeing his game translate against improved competition. McKissic knows why he’s here, and beginning Nov. 9 he’s eager to show he’s more than capable of barking out the necessary defensive adjustments in the Southeastern Conference.
“We didn't really speak on, like, defensive schemes or anything like that (before transferring in), so I didn't really have an idea what this is going to be like,” McKissic said. “I just knew that I was getting brought in to do what I do best: play defense, you know, be a dog on the court on both ends. So that's why I just came to do, just be a dog."