2023-24 Season

‘Hardest season in my life’: Youssef Khayat hopes to build off of freshman year

Editor’s note: Welcome Paul Nasr as a new beat writer this year. He’ll be on the beat with us covering the team and his first story comes from a Youssef Khayat podcast interview translated from Arabic. 

Appearing in just nine games and averaging 1.3 points per game, Youssef Khayat spent his freshman season working with the scout team and waiting his turn. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, breaking in as a freshman is never easy, even in the ‘one-and-done’ era and especially as an international player who didn’t arrive in the United States until shortly before the fall semester began.

But while Khayat saw it as part of his long-term plan and loved every second of competing and improving alongside his teammates, as detailed in an hour-long interview on the Jad Mbarak Show, that didn’t mean riding the bench was particularly easy for him. 

“I’m not saying it isn’t hard to sit on the bench,” Khayat told Mbarak in Arabic. “This season was probably the hardest season in my life … but you can’t be like a virus and bring bad energy to the team.” 

Friends back home in Lebanon sometimes asked Khayat why he was getting so hyped up on the bench while rarely playing. He’d shoot those down as silly questions, telling them that he’d obviously be hyper-involved on the bench as the team needs good energy and he’d gladly provide it, how the team operates as one, and how he’d expect the same from his teammates whenever he’s in the game. 

Helping lead a bench hype squad was Khayat’s typical game-time role, part of an experience he wouldn’t change for the world. Khayat is living out one of his dreams by playing high-level basketball in the U.S. — a step toward his grandest dream of the NBA — and believes he’s grown tremendously as a player under Juwan Howard and company’s tutelage over the season. But it’s a process, and a difficult one at that — something he wasn’t afraid to speak candidly about when talking to Mbarak. 

“The season was hard in terms of not playing the game you love in front of people and in front of a crowd,” Khayat said. “If you see the games we play, they’re in front of thousands of fans and millions of people watching. To see that and sit on the bench, of course it’s hard. And to change countries, that’s not easy at all.”

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