With No. 1-ranked Kansas playing so well and so many pages of documents to scour in KU’s response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, it’s easy to forget that the Jayhawks are about to add another big man to their lineup.
With one game left in the regular season, Silvio De Sousa is officially back. His 12-game suspension ended, coincidently, as the Jayhawks wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 title without him.
So now, a week into March, for the first time since Jan. 21, when De Sousa made some heat-of-the-moment errors in judgment during a fracas with Kansas State that he now regrets, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward returns to the lineup versus Texas Tech.
Just in time to help KU try and win the 2020 league title outright. What a story, right? Well, not really.
It would have felt crazy to say, write, hear or read before the season began, but the fact is the Jayhawks don’t even really need De Sousa to achieve that goal or the larger ones they still have in front of them.
Even before De Sousa threw punches at K-State players and hoisted a stool above his head during a rivalry game skirmish, actions he would later describe as “unacceptable behavior” and a “poor representation” of his team and his “own character,” the backup big man’s impact for KU was sporadic.
Having De Sousa back in uniform will become a luxury for the Jayhawks (27-3 overall, 16-1 Big 12). In his six appearances in league games in January, before his suspension, he only played 6.2 minutes on average — and that was when KU coach Bill Self still used two-big lineups at times.
So what does De Sousa’s role look like now, with the Jayhawks playing one big with four guards almost exclusively? Even Self admitted he doesn’t know the exact answer.
“I know he's going to travel with us. And he'll suit up. I don't know — that doesn’t mean he'll play or play much or anything,” Self said.
Basically, De Sousa has become an insurance policy and a No. 3 center. If anything were to occur that would lead Self to have both Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack on the bench — for instance, they both have two or more fouls before halftime — then the post spot goes to De Sousa.
“We've been kind of set in how we've done things and everything,” Self said of his team’s rotation, after the Jayhawks won their 15th game in a row. “And David's played really well, so I don't see Silvio's eligibility impacting David's minutes. So I don't know what that’ll look like.”
When many people think about De Sousa’s potential, his role in KU’s run to the 2018 Final Four first comes to mind. A freshman who didn’t even join the lineup until January of that year, the reserve from Angola gave the Jayhawks 4.8 points and 5.4 rebounds off the bench during the NCAA Tournament. As the only backup big for Azubuike versus Duke in the Elite Eight, De Sousa came through with 4 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes on a day that Azubuike fouled out.
Before he got the chance to continue his promising trajectory, De Sousa ultimately lost his entire sophomore season, as the NCAA ruled him ineligible in the wake of a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. KU remains in hot water as the result of that investigation and the federal trial that followed it. The NCAA alleges, among other violations, that De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, received $2,500 from an agent in an effort to get De Sousa enrolled at KU.
The university’s lengthy response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, made public Thursday, includes numerous references to the recruitment of De Sousa — his name is simply redacted from the published version of the document.
De Sousa’s return coinciding with the response makes the timing strange. And that’s actually appropriate, because his two-plus years at KU so far have involved bizarre twists and turns, including being reinstated by the NCAA for the 2019-20 season only to lose a chunk of it because of his involvement in the K-State fight.
“I do know he's paid a pretty heavy price,” Self said of the 12-game suspension. “It’s basically cost him the season. So we'll be excited to have him with us.”
As much as De Sousa has practiced with KU since getting to campus in late December of 2017, the on-again, off-again nature of his college career has stunted his development as a player. In-game reps are a crucial component of that growth. It doesn’t seem like he’ll get many of those in the weeks ahead either.
Perhaps De Sousa’s senior season at KU will be the one where he finally becomes a regular contributor. In the meantime, the Jayhawks have an emergency center who would start for many other college programs.
This college basketball season is a long way from over. But eight games in, it isn’t playing out the way Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa pictured.
The 6-foot-9 junior, after being reinstated and winning back his eligibility in the offseason, has yet to find regular minutes in the No. 2 Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation.
De Sousa has played nine or fewer minutes in five of KU’s eight games, gone scoreless in three of those and even went one without recording a single rebound — the last of which came in one of the Jayhawks’ best showings to date, too, a win over Dayton in the Maui Invitational title game.
So where does De Sousa fit in, as the third big man on a team that starts two ahead of him but only plays one the majority of the time?
At this point he just doesn’t. Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack have been healthy and productive, turning De Sousa into a bystander.
Incredibly, the backup big man from Angola, averaging 8.8 minutes, 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds, has done it all with a smile.
“I think being patient is one thing I have naturally,” De Sousa said Monday inside of Allen Fieldhouse. “I know how to deal with frustration, and I know how to control myself whenever I’m going through something like that.”
Obviously he would like to play more. De Sousa admitted as much during his session with reporters, on the eve of KU’s nonconference home date with Milwaukee. But he insists it’s not affecting him.
De Sousa might be saying that out loud and in front of cameras and reporters because that’s his nature. But his head coach will tell you it’s not entirely true.
De Sousa’s an easygoing person, and that’s no doubt helped him avoid becoming too discouraged with his current spot in the pecking order. But Bill Self doesn’t think the big man has been exactly patient in waiting for his turn to take off and become a fixture in the rotation. Nor would Self want De Sousa seeking serenity with his status.
“I never think that any good players are patient,” Self said. “I’ve always thought all the best players are always impatient, because they want it to happen yesterday, let alone with tomorrow.”
KU’s coach concedes De Sousa is a patient person. But the junior forward’s general cheeriness doesn’t have to color every aspect of his life.
“I don't think he's unbelievably patient just waiting his time,” Self said, “because he's not happy with where he is right now. If he was happy, then we wouldn't be very happy.”
De Sousa is nothing if not eager to play a larger role on this KU team. But until he wins over Self by bringing activity and smart defensive and offensive play to the court every time he checks in, it remains to be seen how much of an impact De Sousa will actually make this season.
He at least felt “a lot better” about his contributions in KU’s win over Colorado — and keep in mind De Sousa had 2 points and 3 rebounds in 11 minutes.
“Everything’s just going to come naturally,” De Sousa predicted. “I’m just going to control what I can control right now.”
After spending the entirety of his sophomore season sidelined, as the NCAA ultimately ruled him ineligible before reinstating him in the spring, De Sousa didn’t enter his junior year with the experience of most upperclassmen. He described his first handful of games by saying he felt like they were going “100 miles per hour, and I was just going 40.”
He’s tried to make up ground ever since while figuring it all out and reacclimating himself to high-level college basketball.
“Now I’m catching up,” De Sousa said. “I’m about 75 (miles per hour).”
Self said De Sousa played “fine” in 11 minutes against Colorado and maintained the reserve big man will fit in “fine” this season.
“But he hasn’t really had the chance to play and really gather momentum yet,” Self added.
De Sousa should be able to hit the accelerator again Tuesday night against Milwaukee (5-4). The rest of his teammates can do him a favor by handling their business and building a large lead that will afford De Sousa major minutes for a change.
And if that’s the case, De Sousa should let his displeasure with his situation show on the court. There’s no reason to be patient when he can go out and earn himself the minutes he’s been craving.
One spot in the Kansas basketball team’s starting lineup is subject to change. For now.
It’s mostly been David McCormack occupying the position up front, next to Udoka Azubuike, for the No. 4 Jayhawks. However, Bill Self isn’t opposed to going with Silvio De Sousa in his two-big starting lineup either.
A few weeks into the season, McCormack has started three games and De Sousa one as Self figures it out. But the coach said during his weekly press conference on Thursday he’d prefer to have the matter resolved rather than keep switching back and forth.
“I’ve always thought our best teams we all knew who was starting and who was coming off,” Self said. “I would think that that would be the case.”
Almost thinking out loud about the merits of both McCormack, a 6-foot-10, 265-pound sophomore, and De Sousa, a 6-9, 250 junior, Self remarked that McCormack has been the better of the two overall a mere four games into the season.
“But the way the game ended the other day,” Self went on, providing a counterpoint to his previous statement, “Silvio helped us win. And what he did defensively maybe nobody else on our team can do quite as well as what he does, what he did.”
De Sousa played the final 5:44 of KU’s win over East Tennessee State earlier this week, coming up with a steal, two blocks and a defensive rebound, as well as three baskets in the paint, as KU’s lead improved from 5 when he checked in to 12 by the final buzzer. De Sousa finished with 8 points and a rebound in 9 minutes off the bench.
That same night, McCormack, who twice this season has led KU in rebounds — 13 versus Duke and 11 adjacent Monmouth — only played 12 minutes and contributed 4 points and 3 rebounds as the starter.
“I really don’t have a preference,” Self said of which of the two bigs starts, adding he would see how practices go in the days leading up to the Maui Invitational before deciding which big would open KU’s next game on the court. “You know, it’s coach speak: it doesn’t matter who starts, it’s who finishes. But I know players don’t necessarily buy into that 100%, nor really should they — though I know it is important to some.”
The good news for Self, as well as the Jayhawks, is that it’s hard imagining two players better suited to handle this situation than McCormack and De Sousa. Their off-court personalities are similarly good natured and they both are high-energy competitors when they’re on the floor, making them uniquely equipped to keep battling for playing time without griping or second-guessing.
“They’re great teammates, great guys,” KU sophomore point guard Devon Dotson said. “Unbelievable personalities.”
This Kansas team has a minutes crunch up front, because Self isn’t playing two big men exclusively, even though that’s how every game so far has begun. For long stretches, the Jayhawks roll with four guards and one big. And most of the time that one big man is Azubuike, the 7-footer with the career 74.6% field goal percentage.
“It’s been a grind for those two,” sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji said while praising McCormack and De Sousa. “They have great attitudes every game. Having that when they don’t have the opportunity to play (as much as they’d like) is always good for our team.”
Self said both McCormack and De Sousa “deserve” to play more. So far this season McCormack is averaging 16.7 minutes while De Sousa has only played 11.1 minutes a game.
“But so much of it’s going to come down when you look at it to just a skill set and size standpoint, what we do well may not be exactly in line with what the other teams do well,” Self said of the four-guard KU lineups that eat into potential minutes for the two bigs in question. “So it will be game to game in many situations.”
McCormack might be the team’s best rebounder. De Sousa might be the best offensive rebounder and shot blocker — though none of KU’s three bigs plays like a true rim protector. Both can run the floor, bruise opposing frontcourt players and deliver the type of energy that can swing games.
That shouldn’t change when Self ultimately decides to start one over the other. If all goes according to plan, they can even be interchangeable energy players whenever needed. Their coach even likes the idea of being able to use playing time as a motivator for both.
“The reality of it is I think it does put an extra oomph in them when they get out there, knowing that if it doesn’t go great then somebody else probably can sub in,” Self said. “And if they play well it may limit your future opportunities, at least in that particular game.”
It’s easy to envision both McCormack and De Sousa as a starter or an ideal reserve big man. When one of them becomes the official owner of a starting position, the other shouldn’t feel neglected.
“I hope they both know that I see them as both being starters,” Self said. “As far as I’m concerned we’ve got six. And I hope they view it that way, as well.”
Whether it’s McCormack or De Sousa who locks down the starting spot, it’s a non-issue for Kansas. The Jayhawks will be fortunate to have one of them as a backup.
De Sousa might be perfect for the sixth man role. Flying for alley-oops, battling for offensive rebounds and bringing activity to the defensive end of the court makes De Sousa the type of player you can count on to bring some punch to the floor, and that’s a difficult commodity to find in college basketball.
The more De Sousa plays with the type of liveliness he showed in crunch time versus East Tennessee State, the more his minutes will go up, too, even as a reserve.
Grades for five aspects of the Kansas basketball team’s 75-63 win over East Tennessee State on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
• The Jayhawks dominated in the paint throughout their final tuneup before the Maui Invitational, where they had a 54-24 scoring advantage.
But they weren’t nearly as effective from outside, which kept the game close. KU shot just 1-for-14 on 3-pointers. Devon Dotson knocked down one early, but he and everybody else in a KU uniform spent the rest of the night off the mark.
• KU’s 15 turnovers qualified as a concern, as well. With 9 giveaways in the 2nd half, coupled with some ineffective shooting as ETSU surged, the victory didn’t exactly feel like a certainty.
• Ultimately, KU shot 56% from the floor in a win, indicative of how well the Jayhawks finished inside (14-for-19 layups, 7-for-7 dunks).
• The Jayhawks filled up the blocks and steals column versus ETSU, with eight swats and 14 swipes.
• They also held the visitors below 40% shooting from the field — 23-for-60 (38.3%). And ETSU shot 9-for-30 from deep.
• Limiting the Buccaneers, who had some length and athleticism on the floor, to 7 second-chance points helped assure KU of a win, too.
• Recently the at times clumsy looks between KU’s starting two bigs, Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack, made the offense difficult to watch when they shared court time. On this night, early on they looked far more functional together. Azubuike’s passing has been more impressive this year, and he worked in tandem with McCormack on a couple of occasions early. Even though KU didn’t stick with the duo for long they looked more suitable than usual.
• Before long, Azubuike became unstoppable offensively — other than the free throw line, where he shot 1-for-4. In the second half in particular, Azubuike made sure to take advantage of how ETSU covered him and sought out devastating finishes, which also ignited the crowd and gave his teammates energy.
• McCormack only played 12 minutes and finished with 4 points and 3 boards, while Azubuike went for 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.
• Devon Dotson (19 points, 6 assists) came out hot and allowed the Jayhawks to get comfortable by scoring, passing and making sure KU got transition looks.
• Marcus Garrett (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) wasn’t an ideal backup point guard when Dotson had to sit with some foul trouble early in the second half.
• Ochai Agbaji, while able to deliver on a high degree of difficulty reverse layup, continued to be in a little bit of an offensive slump early in the season, going 2-for-8 overall and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
• Silvio De Sousa had been on the floor about 8 seconds when he went up high to finish a slam off a pass from Dotson and inject some energy into the lineup.
A starter in KU’s rout of Monmouth, De Sousa was back to a reserve role and entered at the same time as two other potentially superb subs, Isaiah Moss and Tristan Enaruna.
Moss was the only one truly off, coughing the ball up a couple of times in the second half and missing his two 3-point attempts.
De Sousa played the final 5-plus minutes at center and was credited by teammates and Self alike as a major reason KU prevailed. The junior big put up 8 points, but also blocked three shots and gave an electric fast break finish in a tight game late.
Enaruna proved trustworthy and able to do a little of everything, with 4 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
Some college basketball coaches go to their bench begrudgingly. The starters start for a reason and when they rest it’s out of necessity.
Few coaches can turn to one reserve, let alone two or three, and trust that something positive is about to happen as a result.
But Bill Self might be in that enviable position before long, a rare coach able to look down his bench and see a variety of subs he would even gladly insert into the starting lineup in a pinch.
And if Tuesday night’s matchup with East Tennessee State was any indication he’ll need that to happen sooner rather than later.
Too often the No. 4 Jayhawks needed team leaders Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike to save them in a 75-63 victory.
They have capable bench players who should spend most of this season making Dotson’s and Azubuike’s responsibilities feel less burdensome.
Silvio De Sousa, Isaiah Moss and Tristan Enaruna were simultaneously the first backups to check in versus the Buccaneers. And the moment the trio hit the floor together it was easy to convince yourself a bench lineup with those three would give any team in the country problems.
At his best, De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 junior from Angola, is all energy all the time. Especially in a reserve role, as he was in the Jayhawks’ bon voyage victory before they head to Maui, De Sousa can exert himself with no boundaries, nor worries about wearing down.
His instant impact showed up the moment he stepped onto the floor, a little fewer than six minutes into the first half. Devon Dotson ran a pick and roll with De Sousa and the big threw his right arm up as he headed toward the paint, indicating he wanted the lob. Dotson delivered, and so did De Sousa, flushing it through.
KU’s lead went from three to nine in a hurry with its best bench players influencing the flow. Enaruna made his presence felt next, utilizing those long arms of his and turning a swipe on one end of the floor into a layup for himself on the other.
Moss was the only one of the three not to score in the first half. But after his 21 points in 15 minutes showcase game against Monmouth, it’s hard to doubt him as an impact backup.
A 6-5 senior who already graduated from Iowa, Moss isn’t perfect. He might even need a reminder on an out of bounds set from time to time about where to line up. But it’s still November, and he is a veteran who will have all that figured out sooner rather than later.
Enaruna is an ideal utility wing. He doesn’t just shoot. Or just defend. He gladly does a bit of everything. The freshman, like the older Moss, blends in on offense. Enaruna can even create off the bounce. Late in the first half the versatile wing from the Netherlands attacked from the left side of the floor, spun to get in the paint and then threw a pass no one except Udoka Azubuike saw coming, freeing the 7-footer for an uncontested dunk.
In crunch time, De Sousa soared in transition while filling in for Azubuike at center. He caught a lob from Dotson off a sprint that rocked the fieldhouse. Shortly after, he blocked a 3-pointer when those shots in particular from ETSU were the ones narrowing the gap.
In the final two minutes, De Sousa twice wisely caught a lob high and returned to the floor instead of forcing an off balance attempt, and he went right back up for a lay-in each time. After the first one, he ran down the floor on defense to block a shot.
“He was great,” Dotson said of the junior big man in the game’s final minutes. “He made some great hustle plays and got his hands on a lot of balls out there, so he was very active. He helped us out a lot down toward the end.”
Azubuike agreed: “After I got subbed because I got tired he came in and brought energy and pretty much helped us win the game.”
Self, of course, thought Azubuike (21 points) was KU’s best offensive player against ETSU. But the coach also said De Sousa had as much to do with the win as anybody on the roster.
“He hadn’t had a chance to play. I put him in and defensively he was terrific,” Self said of De Sousa. “Blocked maybe three shots in the last five or six minutes and then had one great finish. That was probably the best play of the game,” Self added of the big man’s race in transition for an alley-oop. “It was good to see, because he really hasn’t had a chance to contribute in a way I know he’s capable of and he knows he’s capable of.”
With KU up five points and 5:44 left to play, Self subbed in De Sousa for Azubuike.
“I just think that he trusts me and he wanted to see what I can do,” De Sousa said of the opportunity. “I personally think he wants to try to test me.”
After De Sousa, who scored 8 points on the night, contributed a steal, two baskets, and was credited with two blocks and a rebound during the final minutes, he thought he performed pretty well on that test.
“I think I got a 90,” he said. “That’s a good test for me.”
It’s way too early to call KU’s bench unit a great one. It wouldn’t be true at this stage of the season, either. ETSU outscored KU’s bench 19-14.
When the game felt a little tighter in the second half, after ETSU sliced into KU’s double-digit lead, Moss turned the ball over a couple of times, blowing transition opportunities.
“I think he got a little out of whack,” Self said of Moss, who had 2 points in 17 minutes. “He didn’t make a couple open looks and then his ball handling in the second half was real poor… Isaiah’s got to be better with the ball. He was just too careless.”
Plus, Moss needs to be — and can be — KU’s 3-point specialist. The Jayhawks finished the night 1-for-14 from deep and Moss missed his two tries.
Enaruna, who scored 4 points and added 4 assists and 4 rebounds, air balled a wide-open 3 with KU up 11 in crunch time, too.
We don’t even know if all three of KU’s best substitutes will spend all season in their current roles. Yet they’re so promising as three jolts of energy off the bench that they should think of themselves as players who need to be as reliable as Dotson and Azubuike — even if they don’t play as many minutes.
They bring so much to the table between them that they should be a solution game in and game out, and not a problem.
Give them time. By late January leads won’t be in jeopardy with these three on the floor together. And deficits will erase rather than grow larger.
Don’t bury this Kansas basketball team’s two-big lineups just yet.
Bill Self hasn’t. It doesn’t even sound like he has bothered locating his shovel.
KU’s head coach wants to see more evidence of what combinations of Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa can do for the No. 5 Jayhawks before he gets too caught up in what they haven’t a couple of games into a long season.
“Right now” Self is sure to emphasize — meaning he doesn’t necessarily believe the statement will be true in the future — KU’s offense is better with four guards on the floor. It may be more a sliver of optimism than stubbornness that has Self waiting to watch it all play out.
The reasons to stick with two bigs are obvious. If it works, KU should theoretically be able to maximize its rebounding and rim protection, while also having larger bodies to set screens for various offensive actions and sets. The idea would be that the Jayhawks get such a boost in those areas that there’s a net gain outweighing the negatives that accompany playing two bigs.
And the most obvious unwelcome results could come on the defensive end of the floor. College basketball lineups are more perimeter-oriented now, so if Self has two of his three largest bodies on the court at the same time, either McCormack or De Sousa will have to defend someone who plays more like a wing when KU opponents have four-guard lineups. (Seven-footer Azubuike won’t be the one asked to pull that off.)
Think about Self’s KU teams through the years, since he came to Lawrence in 2003, and consider what usually inspires him to pick one player over another or one lineup combination over another. It’s defense. Self cares about that and the toughness associated with playing it more than how many more 3-pointers the Jayhawks can hoist with four guards.
Just as issues currently exist offensively for this roster when KU rolls with two big men — neither McCormack nor De Sousa can help space the floor as shooting threats — there are factors on the defensive end of the floor that could eventually lead Self to pivot and stick with one post player.
“Our two bigs — which are true bigs, it’s not like they’re really tall guards or perimeter 4-men — our bigs are all big,” Self said of what makes playing two of them at once risky at times for KU’s defense.
“How are we going to guard ball screens? If we switch,” Self added, “can one of those guys — Silvio or David — stay connected and be a good perimeter defender? And if we don’t switch how do we get back to shooters?”
All of those defensive actions and reactions become simpler when KU has four guards on the court. So KU’s coaches have kept working with McCormack and De Sousa to see if they can make enough improvements as defenders outside to make these not so modern lineups worthwhile.
“In defense of those guys, they’ve never done it before,” Self said, noting as he often has in the season’s first week-plus that Azubuike, McCormack and De Sousa really all are centers at heart. “Silvio’s never played on the perimeter, and David’s never played on the perimeter. This is new to them, as well.”
Neither McCormack (listed at 6-foot-10 and 265 pounds) nor De Sousa (6-9, 245) is going to transform into the type of versatile 4-man defender Self loves — think Josh Jackson. But they aren’t so awful that Self has abandoned any hope of them getting better out of their element.
Self, if so inspired, will blast a player for not performing up to the coach’s standards or call one out for being “soft” in some way, shape or form. But he didn’t say anything close to that during his weekly press conference on Thursday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse.
Instead, Self said this of McCormack and De Sousa as perimeter defenders: “I think they’re getting better at it.”
Junior guard Marcus Garrett, often lauded by Self for his basketball IQ and defense, said during the team’s closed practices he sees McCormack and De Sousa improving. When screens call for one of the bigs to switch, Garrett shared, he sees both taking pride in “actually guarding on the perimeter.”
“Just staying in front of the ball when they get a switch. Just don’t let a guy just make one move or play with the ball and go right by him,” Garrett gave as examples. “I’m starting to see them move their feet and actually being active once they switch on a guard.”
It obviously doesn’t always go according to plan. Asked whether one of the bigs ever has to guard him outside and how that goes, Garrett just tried to hide a grin and didn’t need to provide any details that would make a teammate look bad.
Even if the improvements McCormack and De Sousa have displayed during practices have been minor in the near week since matchups with perimeter-oriented UNC Greensboro led Self to play four guards for 35 minutes, the fact is Self wants KU’s two-big lineups to work.
It’s doubtful any combination of KU’s two bigs will become so overwhelming that going large will turn into the Jayhawks’ sole identity this season. But the goal should be flexibility. And having some of that on the defensive end of the floor always comes in handy in March. Round by round, one never knows what matchups the bracket might spit out. Ideally, Kansas will be able to adjust and feel comfortable with two bigs defending or just one.
So think of the longterm and defensive upside if Self seems more patient with two bigs than you figured.
The much anticipated season debut of Kansas big man Silvio De Sousa didn’t quite live up to the hype this week, when the Jayhawks lost to Duke at Madison Square Garden.
After a lengthy appeal process with the NCAA that won De Sousa’s 2019-20 eligibility back, the 6-foot-9 forward looked more like someone who hadn’t played in a college basketball game in 19 months than an instant energy provider off the bench.
Who would have guessed at any point leading up to the Champions Classic that De Sousa, who happened to have a breakout game as a freshman against Duke in the Elite Eight, would play fewer than eight minutes against the Blue Devils in the first game of his junior season?
It was 7:34 to be exact, with just one two-minute cameo in the second half of a tight game against one of the country’s best teams. De Sousa finished 0-for-2 from the field and 3-for-4 on free throws, with 4 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 points, 3 turnovers and 1 steal in KU’s loss to Duke.
So what does that say about where he’s at in his development? KU coach Bill Self had a straightforward assessment.
“He’s thinking,” Self said Thursday afternoon inside Allen Fieldhouse. “And he needs to get his motor turned up.”
De Sousa subbed in for sophomore David McCormack at the 16:34 mark of the first half of the opener, taking the floor in an official capacity for the first time since KU got blasted by Villanova at the 2018 Final Four. His first stint in the Jayhawks’ rotation since gave everyone who watched the game a sense of what Self has seen from De Sousa at practices. The big man from Angola’s only statistical contribution in a three-plus minute stretch early on came when he traveled after catching a pass from Udoka Azubuike on a cut to the rim.
When he returned for another taste later on in the first half, De Sousa had a steal and a turnover on one failed swoop, when he tried to outlet pass a loose ball but gave it right back to Duke.
De Sousa at least looked relatively more active in his brief second half appearance, with some offensive rebounds a couple trips to the foul line. But that wasn’t cutting it for Self, who said it was more than the glaring turnover mistakes that kept De Sousa from playing a significant role.
“You guys saw,” Self said. “There were some balls the other day, playing well below the rim, the backboard. Had an uncontested tip-in that he went with one hand.”
While the rust angle to De Sousa’s rough opener might be considered an excuse by some, Self called missing his entire sophomore season a “legitimate” reason for the big man’s issues.
“But also, you complement that with he hasn’t had a great last week,” Self reported of KU practices, “and he’s starting to doubt, ‘OK, where am I supposed to be?’”
Then Self hit on the crux of the problem. Both De Sousa and McCormack are really centers playing at a forward position. Neither is anywhere near a natural — on either end of the floor — on the perimeter.
“That doesn’t mean that they can’t play the 4 and the positions can’t be interchangeable,” Self said. “But when you’re going to play around Dok you need to be able to do some things, because Dok isn’t going to move very far from the basket.”
Basically, KU has three centers and zero ideal fits at the 4 spot next to its largest of the trio, 7-footer Azubuike.
“Those are things that he’ll get better at,” Self said of De Sousa acclimating to a different position. “And certainly when he played two years ago, our 4 man was Svi (Mykhailiuk) or Lagerald (Vick). So it’s a little bit different than what it is now.”
Perhaps Self is right, and De Sousa will adapt. He can certainly play with more activity and awareness than he showed in Game 1 of a long season.
How quickly De Sousa works out the kinks will determine how large a role he plays for this team, which may have too many old school centers to make the rest of the pieces fit cohesively in a modern college basketball game — unless Self opts to play one big at a time and go with four-guard lineups.
Whatever role De Sousa ends up playing when this team rounds into form in February and March, he doesn’t seem like the type of person who will languish just because his path to making an impact is difficult.
“He’s more than capable,” Self said. “He’s just thinking too much. He’ll get it.”
Both have just one season of college basketball experience on their résumés. In terms of height, one of them has just one inch on the other. And when it comes to fit, either of the two University of Kansas big men have the ability to partner effectively inside with 7-footer Udoka Azubuike.
So which sturdy forward is the man for the frontcourt supporting role next to Azubuiike when KU plays big? Silvio De Sousa or David McCormack?
Head coach Bill Self and his staff, of course, have much of the offseason, preseason practices, scrimmages and even exhibitions to navigate before they really have to figure that part out.
In the meantime, the rest of the Jayhawks should get to witness quite a competition between the 6-foot-10, 260-pound McCormack, who became a more impactful player for KU late in his freshman season, and the 6-9, 245-pound De Sousa, whose first year of college basketball followed a similar path before the NCAA ruled him ineligible for what would have been his sophomore season.
“It could be,” McCormack said recently, when asked whether his battles with De Sousa in the weeks and months ahead could determine which of them enters the 2019-20 season as a starter. “But, I mean, I see it as friendly competition, pushing us to get better. And I know either way it’s going to benefit us both.”
As a freshman this past season, McCormack played in 34 games, averaging 3.9 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10.7 minutes a game. The big man who played at Oak Hill Academy (Va.) as a prep finished his debut college year shooting 62.5% from the floor, and proved to be far more effective toward the end of the schedule, after growing more comfortable at the collegiate level.
In early March, McCormack put up double-digit points in three consecutive games. In his season finale he provided 11 points and 6 boards against Auburn. McCormack projects as an overall more effective player for KU as a sophomore, particularly with the positive individual momentum that led into his offseason.
De Sousa’s a lock to blow away his previous season’s numbers, as well. Before breaking through late in KU’s 2018 Final Four season, De Sousa often played sparse minutes when asked to prove his merits to Self. Four minutes there, two minutes here. De Sousa played one minute three times in his 20 appearances off the bench for KU. In half of those 20 games he played four or fewer minutes.
It’s already been more than a year and two months since De Sousa proved in an Elite Eight matchup versus Duke (4 points, 10 rebounds and 1 block) that his presence can change a game for the better for KU. The big man never got the chance the following year to show off how much he had added to his repertoire since putting up 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 8.8 minutes as a freshman, when he shot 68.1% from the floor.
Ahead of his junior year with the Jayhawks, the forward from Angola expects his clashes inside with McCormack will be intense.
“Oh, yeah,” De Sousa began, before making it clear that didn’t mean any animosity existed between the two KU bigs. “Battles are on every team. Everybody who wants to play, they must earn it.”
After watching closely as McCormack developed into a more forceful presence inside, De Sousa assessed that his teammate had a good freshman season.
“So I’m going to have to battle and fight every single day and just kind of earn the spot,” De Sousa added.
These two will be tussling in the paint and around the rim on KU’s practice courts, but how they handle various other parts of the job is likely to dictate who plays more.
If Self wants to start two big men, rather than four guards around Azubuike, ultimately, the forward who emerges as the starting 4-man will be the one who is the best fit for the lineup overall. And that might come down to which of them is more comfortable operating from the high post and/or playing some on the perimeter in order to better balance the floor.
Neither has proven in live action what he can do in that role, and neither is likely to look as natural doing so as Dedric Lawson, for example.
Both could kill it on the offensive glass playing next to Azubuike and both burly forwards possess the potential to make the paint a treacherous place to visit for KU opponents.
However, unless one of De Sousa and McCormack unexpectedly dominates the other, making the victor a no-brainer of a decision for Self, it could come down to other intangibles. Who is more versatile defensively? Which one can keep the ball moving offensively and feed Azubuike in the post? Who can drive the ball not just to score but to help keep the offense flowing?
They’ll have all summer long and then some to fine tune those aspects of the game that might not come as naturally as a jump hook off a post up.
De Sousa seems to have the more natural jumper between the two, and not because of that, but due to the tenacity that characterizes much of his game and his bounce, the sure to be fan favorite inside Allen Fieldhouse who won his appeal after the NCAA robbed him of a year of his basketball career would be my pick to win the available staring job up front.
And McCormack would be a terror of a first big off the bench.
Topeka — On what seemed at the time like an uneventful Friday afternoon in late May, a two-word text message sent University of Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji into a frenzy.
“He’s free,” read the incoming note on Agbaji’s phone, sent from Fred Quartlebaum, the team’s director of student-athlete development.
Quartlebaum’s text, which included a picture of a smiling Silvio De Sousa with his lawyer, delivered to Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, Udoka Azubuike and De Sousa himself, was how Agbaji, relaxing on his bed at the time, learned De Sousa’s appeal was successful and the forward had been cleared to return and play for the Jayhawks next season.
“After that I just lost it,” a smiling Agbaji recalled Tuesday, after spending some of his morning working as a counselor at Washburn University’s basketball camp at Lee Arena.
“I went to my mom, I was like, ‘Yo, they got him free.’ I called my dad — he was at work,” Agbaji went on. “It’s exciting.”
The chance for the Jayhawks to team up with De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward, during the 2019-20 season felt gratifying for his teammates, such as Agbaji, because the whole ordeal dragged on for so long and seemed so beyond anyone’s control, making De Sousa’s future with the program a giant unknown.
“It’s something that we had, not really affecting us, but just something we had going on that was off the court, and it was really unnecessary I think,” Agbaji said, as he and other Jayhawks had their first opportunity with media members to reflect on the successful De Sousa appeal. “Having that done and good and having him back is really exciting. And I think it’s kind of motivating our team a lot, too.”
For the Jayhawks that May 24 victory is easy to lump together with Udoka Azubuike returning for his senior season and Devon Dotson withdrawing from the NBA Draft. But the De Sousa ruling and the emotions it inspired made it unique.
David McCormack recalled a push notification on his phone informing him of the De Sousa news. He said less than a minute later the Jayhawks’ group chat “blew up” because all of the players were chiming in, and sending messages to their rescued big man.
“Just congratulating him and (telling him) how we’re proud of him and all of that,” McCormack shared of the interactions within that ecstatic moment for the teammates.
KU walk-on Elijah Elliott was on a plane, coming back from the beach, when his phone began buzzing because of the De Sousa ruling. Elliott said he immediately called up the KU big man to share his excitement.
The outpouring of support had everything to do with what De Sousa’s teammates had witnessed over the course of the previous season, during which De Sousa never was able to play a game, was ruled ineligible and kept on practicing and believing in himself, despite his circumstances.
“His attitude never wavered,” Elliott said of De Sousa. “He never had a bad attitude. I think through the whole thing it was just constant with him and it paid off in the end.”
Although most of the college basketball world hasn’t seen De Sousa play since he carved out an important role for himself as a freshman on KU’s 2018 Final Four team, his teammates this past year, during a lost sophomore season for the forward from Angola, witnessed him improving behind the scenes, as De Sousa continued practicing with the Jayhawks.
“He’s just really been working on his skill set and getting better on different aspects,” McCormack revealed. “I would say shooting, dribbling, anything. His game I can see has just progressed all around.”
When De Sousa finally reemerges on the national stage this coming season for what looks like another Final Four contender for Bill Self’s Jayhawks, everyone will get to see for themselves what De Sousa’s teammates have been watching.
Elliott predicted the forward’s competitive nature will shine above everything.
“He’s super competitive, loves to compete,” Elliott emphasized. “Great teammate and gives it everything he has every day when he steps on the court.”
Popular with his teammates and the KU fanbase alike, De Sousa already has injected the Jayhawks with energy and momentum, and the season is still five months away.
Silvio De Sousa wasn’t just the man of the hour in Lawrence when news broke on Friday that the NCAA had backed off its bizarre decision to ban him for a second season.
Nor was De Sousa only the man of the day, even though his name was the predominant topic of discussion throughout this Kansas basketball crazed city.
Welcome to the year of Silvio De Sousa.
Yes, the Jayhawks’ frontcourt depth went from solid to staggering with De Sousa’s addition. But the team is getting much more than an extra big body to occupy the paint. The rugged interior play of the 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward from Angola will no doubt prove crucial to KU’s success. Perhaps even more importantly on that front, though, De Sousa will carry with him an energetic aura powerful enough to influence his teammates.
De Sousa is a uniquely positive person. Always upbeat. Almost always smiling. That didn’t change during a lost sophomore season either. First while waiting to hear whether the NCAA might clear him this past season after looking into his guardian Fenny Falmagne's role in accepting money from a former Adidas executive who later was declared a KU booster, then dealing with the blow of the NCAA’s initial ruling that De Sousa would be ineligible for two straight seasons and then while waiting again, this time for the appeal process to play out, De Sousa, while challenged by it all, remained optimistic.
That didn’t go unnoticed by his KU teammates or coaches. They marveled throughout the ordeal about how De Sousa handled everything. And the way he kept working and battling in KU practices when no matter how good he looked it wouldn’t get him any in-game minutes.
Those types of displays are inspiring. De Sousa is someone his teammates will fight for and a player Bill Self and his assistants will continue to love coaching.
Speaking of love, now that he has won his appeal against the hated NCAA, you won’t be able to find many Jayhawks more treasured by the fan base than De Sousa. As difficult as it is for opponents to win inside Allen Fieldhouse on a yearly basis, wait until they try to pull that off during the 2019-20 season, when De Sousa’s powerful slams and hard-nosed plays inside will exponentially ignite the fans’ fervor.
Grateful to have his basketball career back when it seemed equally as likely as recently as Thursday that he would never again put on a KU uniform, De Sousa should play with more tenacity than ever. Sprinting harder on fast breaks. Diving after more loose balls. Combating anybody and everybody for rebounds. Toiling away and cherishing every second of it.
“All those days and nights wondering what would happen,” De Sousa said in a statement released by KU after the forward was cleared of his guardian’s wrongdoing, “this makes it all worth it.”
The months it took for KU and De Sousa’s lawyer to battle for this ultimately successful appeal have paid off. And with it the Jayhawks have De Sousa as their heart and soul of the rotation. The team needed an inspiring presence after a 2018-19 season that included the end to KU’s Big 12 title streak and a second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
De Sousa’s basketball skills alone don’t make him a savior. But with his determination, attitude and willingness to scrap, as well as the feel-good vibes of playing with a freed De Sousa fueling the Jayhawks around the inspired big man, Self should find it easier to get the most out of his roster next season, during De Sousa’s victory lap.