Wichita barber works hard to make the Shockers look good
He’s flown to Rockford, Ill. at the request of Fred VanVleet. He’s come to Kansas City for Landry Shamet. He’s even been to Miami to work with NFL players for the Dolphins.
No, Michio Sanchez is not a coach or a sports agent. He’s a barber.
Known to clients as “Keyo,” the 28-year-old has become the go-to for Wichita State players in need of a hair cut. In the past six years, he has assumed the position of unofficial team barber.
For many WSU players, they believe in the adage that if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good. The Shockers have never been more in the spotlight with the move to the American Athletic Conference and the players are conscious of this. That’s why many will see Keyo as often as once a week during the season.
“You feel fresh, everything feels better,” WSU junior Jaime Echenique said. “To be honest with you, I like playing with a fresh new haircut because you feel like a new person. I always feel like I’m going to play good after seeing Keyo.”
“It’s very important,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “We’re playing on national TV, so we got to get nice cuts. Whenever there’s a big game, the night before everybody is hitting up Keyo. We’ll all come to the shop or he’ll come to the locker room sometimes. He looks out for us because he knows it’s important.”
Think of any Shocker in the past six years and Keyo has probably given him a haircut at one point. Well, with the exception of Ron Baker. Although, according to Keyo, Baker came to him at one point and wanted to shave off his signature curly locks.
“I said, ‘Nah, I’m not doing that. I’m not cutting your super power off,’” Keyo said. “Everybody would have been mad at me for that one.”
One of his most skeptical customers, at least early, was VanVleet. He was a freshman at the time, used to paying $5 for a haircut back in Rockford, and he requested an edge-up and taper from Keyo. Per his shop’s policy, Keyo charged him $20. VanVleet could not believe he charged that much for a haircut and stopped going to Keyo.
But after getting his hair cut from others around town and seeing his teammates’ styles from Keyo, VanVleet saw the difference in quality. Ever since then, Keyo has been his barber. Even after making it to the NBA with the Toronto Raptors, VanVleet still prefers to have Keyo cut his hair and shape his beard for him.
“I helped Fred get his waves and his beard right,” Keyo said. “I told him to let his hair grow out and then it will get a pattern to it. You just need to brush your hair. Sure enough, it started to lay down and get thicker and it started to wave up. Now he’s real proud of those waves.”
So how did Keyo become WSU’s go-to barber in the first place? Most importantly, he’s good at his job. But he also has an infectious personality and can be a confidant to players through a stressful season. Although, Keyo’s story is a serendipitous one.
Growing up, there was no profession he dreamed of going into. So after graduating high school, Keyo evaluated his options for what he thought could give him the safest job security.
Everything seemed to revolve around computers, so he looked into graphic design and editing but the idea of sitting in an office for 40 hours a week wasn’t appealing. Being in Wichita, the nation’s air capital, he though about working in aviation, but that’s when many of Wichita’s aviation companies were laying people off.
“So I started thinking about what I could do where I couldn’t be laid off,” Keyo said. “Then it hit me. Everybody’s got hair. Everybody needs a hair cut, so I might as well do that.”
He began cutting hair in 2011, graduated from Old Town Barber College and started working at a shop at 21st and Woodlawn. One day in walked Chadrack Lufile and Tekele Cotton. This was before the Shockers’ Final Four team and 35-1 season.
It’s the classic story of being in the right place at the right time. In 2013, Snapchat was taking off and Keyo was using social media to advertise his services. He would have videos of cutting players’ hair and they would give him shoutouts on their social media. Then the Final Four run happened that spring.
“It was crazy to me watching them on ESPN and seeing them on the cover of Sports Illustrated because those are my cuts,” Keyo said. “I don’t see them as athletes first, really. They’re just people who come in and get a haircut. But seeing them go crazy and winning like they that, all of a sudden it’s black and yellow everything. It was life-changing.”
Ever since, Keyo has been responsible for some of WSU’s signature looks in recent memory.
Shaquille Morris had a standing weekly appointment with Keyo to keep his beard “crispy.” Keyo gave Landry Shamet’s hair the “Superman’s curl” effect. Rauno Nurger’s rounded part and combover fade was Keyo’s handiwork. But Keyo’s most adventurous client might be McDuffie, whose latest addition has been maintaining a beard for his senior season.
“My favorite was probably my freshman year when I had the fade with the side part going,” McDuffie said. “He got me right my freshman year. Every year I try to do something different. Keyo has been more than just a barber to me. He’s been my friend too. I’ll take care of his dog. We’re just great friends and that’s my guy.”
Keyo keeps a close eye on his clients and how they maintain their appearance after a haircut. He goes to almost every home game and then will watch the away games on television. After all, he has a reputation to uphold.
“I’ll text them sometimes like, ‘C’mon man, you could have at least brushed your hair or did something with that,’” Keyo said. “Everybody is watching.”
Keyo now works at Tory Brooke Salon in Clifton Square and is learning how to style women’s hair (“I want to be able to cut the whole family”). He takes appointments at 316-201-1619 or by booking straight through him on his Instagram account: @keyo_midwest. He says it’s not unusual for boys to come in wanting a cut like their favorite Shocker.
Keyo started out simply in search of a stable job. What he found was a way to empower people, instill confidence and he believes change lives.
“I really do believe in life if you feel like you look good, then you feel good about yourself,” Keyo said. “I can’t really explain it. I just know when you get a fresh cut for an interview, you feel more confident you’re going to get a job. Before you go on a date, get a cut, now you feel like you got that girl. I want to give people that confidence.”