By Mike Moore, JTV Sports
There were a number of things Rich Karasek called Khari Willis, a handful of terms he used to describe one of his most dynamic players Lumen Christi has ever known.
Electric. A winner. A competitor, just to name a few.
But there was one phrase that seemed to stand out, and maybe most accurately define one of the Titans’ best athletes to suit up in the green and gold.
“When you consider what he was able to do on the football field and the basketball court,” Karasek said of Willis, “he’s a once-in-a-lifetime guy.”
With endorsements like that, and a winter full of highlights and special play, Willis was an easy choice for the JTV Male Player of the Year.
“As a player, he was the guy that pushed the pace of the game. He could explode down court at any time,” Karasek said of his senior guard. “He made everyone around him better.”
The latter part of that comment may have been the most telling, and the one that told the story of what made Willis so instrumental to everything Lumen did.
He had the skill set to score more than 20 a game, but was actually Lumen’s second-leading scorer. But from one day, practice and game to the next, he made everyone around him more dangerous.
“This year was more of a lead-by-example season for me,” Willis said. “I was trying to keep this program moving in the right direction. I wanted to establish myself as a basketball player, but really, it was about winning. I wanted to lead, establish myself as one of the best guards in the state, and win as a team.”
Missions certainly accomplished.
Willis led Lumen to a 19-3 overall record and a spot in the district semifinals before a 63-61 loss to Hanover-Horton.
Individually, Willis scored 16.4 points per game (second to Devin Edward’s 16.8), pulled down six rebounds, dished out six assists and swiped three steals per contest.
In his four years on varsity, he was part of 73 wins, the most ever for a single player.
He also finished his career third all-time in Lumen’s scoring totals, yet, as mentioned, had the goal of sharing the ball when needed, or taking a step back if someone else had the opportunity to step forward.
“I’m a coach’s son, and I think I see the game different than most,” Willis said when asked about incorporating everyone on the floor into the game. “I like to set up and find the best shot on the court, whoever might have it. Even if I have a decent look, maybe somebody else has a better one.”
Few had a better look at Willis’ career than Karasek.
“His competitiveness made him so great,” the Titans’ coach said. “Growing up with older brothers and playing against them all the time certainly helped. But he was a gym rat and had such a desire to win. … He’s probably the closest thing to Tony Dungy this town has ever seen. Khari reminds me so much of Tony. He’s just a great individual.”
Willis, who said he takes nothing for granted, called the JTV Player of the Year award a true honor.
“I grew up watching games on JTV,” he said. “This means a lot to me.”
Willis is headed to Michigan State University in the fall on a football scholarship, but laughed when asked if he’s considering playing hoops as well.
“It’s still pending,” he said. “Don’t count anything out yet.”
As for moving forward next winter with a roster void of Willis, Karasek said simply, “we have to replace somebody that’s irreplaceable.”