A crucial moment in Kai Khasu’s career came Jan. 20 in the locker room at St. Francis after the Ramblers beat the Spartans 56-29.
Suffering from self doubt, Khasu listened as Loyola head coach Tom Livatino told him he would be an important piece of the puzzle going forward.
“Those words re-inforced to me what I had been thinking,” said Khasu, a 6-foot guard. “He told me I was ready.”
Livatino said he wanted Khasu to know that the coaches trusted him.
“We thought at some point Kai would make his mark,” Livatino said. “It was self-confidence. He had to own it. I think it had gotten to a point for him when he knew it was the end, and he had an epiphany. I’m glad he did.”
Khasu made his first varsity start Saturday in Loyola’s 41-32 win over Providence Catholic in the first round of the Catholic League tournament and started again in Sunday’s 39-28 victory against Leo.
A scout team player to start the season, one of Khasu’s biggest obstacles on the road to the regular rotation was himself. He said he routinely questioned whether or not he belonged with the best players.
“Everybody has always believed in me and supported me,” said Khasu, who lives in Skokie and went to St. Peter, which has since closed. “I would have days on scout team that I played well. Once I was with the starting team, I got nervous and uncomfortable. I am finally believing in myself.”
Heading into his senior year, Khasu said his goal was to find meaningful minutes. As a junior, he barely played at all, but he was looking to make an impact in his final season.
Senior Ted Falkenhayn, another scout team player who has seen his minutes increase lately, said all of the Ramblers were rooting for Khasu to take the next step.
“He has a lot of skills that he seemed afraid to use when he was with the starters,” Falkenhayn said. “With the scout team, he played confidently and put up big numbers on the starters. Everybody was waiting for him to break out of his shell.”
An injury to senior forward Julian DeGuzman during the St. Rita game created an opportunity for other Ramblers. Based on what he’d seen in practice and in games against Marmion and St. Rita, Livatino tabbed Khasu to start for the Catholic League tournament.
In a 67-50 win over Marmion on Feb. 3, Khasu scored a season-high 10 points and had two assists. He had six points and two assists in a 50-49 loss to St. Rita on Feb. 7.
“He had been playing at a high level in practice, both offensively and defensively,” Livatino said. “He sometimes got bogged down in thinking too much about the game. Now, he’s not nervous and just plays. He’s earned his opportunity.”
Count senior and captain Ramar Evans among Khasu’s biggest fans. He said Khasu texted him after the team’s 56-54 overtime loss to New Trier on Nov. 23. Evans said Khasu “wished he could have done something to help the team win.”
“He told me to stay on him, to make sure he got better,” Evans added. “It’s cool to see this actually happen for him.”
Livatino raves about the contributions of the scout team. In addition to Khasu and Falkenhayn, the unit has included senior Jimmy Alexopoulous, senior Kris Lampley, senior Tony Reyes, junior Vahe Kalayjian, junior John Lynch and junior Patrick Russell.
“They’ve done it willing and have had a phenomenal attitude about it,” Livatino said. “They make sure we are ready to play. For a senior, like Kai, to not be playing much and be motivated every day to work hard is inspiring.”
Despite his performances against both Marmion and St. Rita off the bench, Khasu said he still was nervous for his first career start Saturday. It’s a different feeling to be introduced to the crowd over the speakers before a game.
“It’s been a cool thing,” he said. “I could have done more in both games, but I am pretty happy with how I have played. This is an exciting time of year. I am happy with where I am.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola