Jaquan McKennon is in a better place personally after the worst experience of his life.
The Thomas Jefferson senior guard, who lives in St. Albans, Queens, said his parents always told him how tough the world could be. It wasn’t until he lived a school year without heat, running water and other amenities that he believed it and grew from it.
“I listened to them, but I didn’t know it was that serious,” McKennon said. “It just made me more grateful. It made me more humble.”
He only has himself and his support group to blame for being in such a position and doesn’t shy away from that. McKennon chose to leave St. Raymond for Cardozo after his sophomore season because the two-hour commute to and from the Bronx each day was taking a toll on him physically and academically. He never made it to Cardozo, because his family ultimately decided there were going to be too many distractions if he stayed in Queens.
McKennon, on the advice of a former coach, went to National Christian Academy, a prep school in Maryland. It was one of the few schools that had a spot available that late in the summer. When he arrived, the situation was much different than he expected. National Christian Academy didn’t have dorms. McKennon said he had to stay with a family friend in a one-floor, one-family house in Brandywine, Md, a town with a population of a little more than 6,000 people.
His living conditions there were unlike anything he had ever experienced. The only hot water was the kind he got from the corner store and boiled. He slept on a mattress, but needed four or five blankets to keep warm. There was no cable.
“As a teenager I wasn’t expecting that at all,” McKennon said. “It was like a very big shock. I didn’t know what to do with it.”
He immediately wanted to return home, but his parents felt he could benefit from being on his own. McKennon made the most of a bad situation. He learned to cook, clean and do his own laundry. On the basketball side, he got in the best shape of his career.
“It was an eye opener for him,” Jefferson coach Lawrence “Bud” Pollard said. “It showed him you can’t take the small things for granted.”
The coach believes too often kids believe things are always better elsewise. McKennon however is happy to be home and returns with a greater appreciation for his life here.
He said the first thing he did when he came back this summer was take a hot shower and spend the day with as much family as possible. The 5-foot-11 guard picked Jefferson because of the strong reputation of the program, a chance to lead a young team and an opportunity to win a city title.
“He is going to contribute a lot,” Jefferson junior guard Shamorie Ponds said. “He has a good personality and he is going to bring string leadership to the program.”
McKennon, who was considered one of the top guards in the city during his time at St. Raymond, comes back with something to prove. He said he has no scholarship offers, but has interest from Miami, Tennessee and Notre Dame among others. McKennon feels he needs to showcase that he is more than just a scorer.
“A lot of kids in New York City say I am not a point guard,” he said. “Now I have a whole bunch of talent to show them.”
The school year in Maryland well outside his comfort zone transformed his worldview, motivated him athletically and brought a better, more appreciative person back to New York City.
“I came back home and I thank God everyday,” McKennon said. “Every time I wake up, every time I go to sleep.”