It was a wild Saturday night in the Bay Area for Jesse Kass.
Down by 17 points in a league game against San Francisco last year, the Loyola Marymount men’s basketball team appeared headed for its third loss in a row. But the Lions seemingly flipped a switch, engineering a furious rally to come within one point in the final seconds.
And as they capped their thrilling one-point comeback victory on a buzzer-beating putback, Kass was frantically chronicling the game with his voice.
Kass, who graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2006, is currently in his fourth year as LMU’s play-by-play radio announcer.
Calling the team’s captivating win over USF is one of several career highlights for Kass, who will be back on the microphone on KXLU-FM 88.9 for the Lions’ home games Jan. 7 against Saint Mary’s and Jan. 9 against Pacific at Gersten Pavilion on the campus of the Westchester-area university.
Kass said he feels much more at ease calling live sporting events now than he did when he broke into the field as an LMU student.
“There’s always going to be a little bit of nerves, but as the games have gone on and the years have gone by, I’m much more comfortable than I was when I first started,” he said. “Listening back [to old recordings], I can tell the improvement in my comfort level, how much better I sound, my vocabulary. More experience will lead you to better production.”
The seeds of Kass’ current job were planted before he could walk, when his father took him in a stroller to LMU basketball games. Kass, who attended Roosevelt Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools before Samohi, also played club basketball and other sports throughout his childhood.
Perhaps more importantly, Kass was often intrigued by the broadcasters who called college and pro games. He particularly appreciated the work of late Lakers play-by-play legend Chick Hearn, current Clippers voice Ralph Lawler and Knicks announcer Mike Breen.
Shortly after Kass began pursuing a communications degree at LMU, he made connections with athletics staffers and people involved with the campus radio station. He started doing play-by-play for the school’s soccer, baseball and volleyball teams.
“It snowballed from there,” he said. “It’s something I really enjoy doing.”
Toward the end of his time in college, Kass was invited to work as a color commentator for home basketball games alongside longtime play-by-play announcer Jeff Lampe. And when Lampe’s full-time job took him to Denver, Kass was asked to call games on his own.
“I had a great mentor,” he said. “He was really good on air, and I was able to build off that. … With the speed of the game, it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of and play back and forth with. But I don’t see it as a big burden to do it by myself.”
Kass now travels with the team for away games, and he said he enjoys that he’s able to announce for his alma mater. He’s already seen the program work through a coaching transition from Max Good to Mike Dunlap, who is currently in his second season at the helm.
One day, Kass said, he hopes to be a play-by-play broadcaster for a professional sports team. For now, though, he’s happy honing his craft just a few miles from Santa Monica.
He’s even developed a recurring exclamation, “Trey bien,” a pun that combines the basketball slang for a 3-pointer and the French phrase for “very well,” an ode to his mother’s French roots.
As for how often he uses it?
“I like to let that happen organically,” he said.