Silvio De Sousa says it was hard talking to his mom about NCAA appeal
Silvio De Sousa’s mother, Janina, checked in with her only son regularly during his sophomore year at Kansas, seeking the latest news on the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward’s eligibility case with the NCAA.
Phone call after call ended with Janina, a government worker in Angola, learning Silvio was practicing daily at KU, but not playing in games amid allegations his guardian accepted illegal benefits from an Adidas representative.
“Whenever my mom called to ask me, ‘Do you have updates today?’ … sometimes I wouldn’t pick up the phone. I didn’t want to tell her the same answer … all the ‘no’s,’’’ De Sousa said Wednesday afternoon from Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp, where De Sousa and KU teammate Michael Jankovich were working as counselors for about 100 youths in Lee Arena.
“It was just pretty much, ‘I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s talk about something else.’ Then the day I told her (he had NCAA suspension for the 2019-20 season overturned), she was so happy. I could see she was more excited than I am,” De Sousa added with a smile.
De Sousa — his dad and three younger sisters are also back in his native Angola — was informed by his attorney on May 24 that the NCAA’s Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement had tossed out the suspension that kept him from playing in games in 2018-19 and also was going to keep him sidelined all of 2019-20.
“The minute I found out (he could play again) the one thing I felt … I was really happy and it (weight) came off my shoulders. I couldn’t ever be more happy. (I said), ‘I’ve just got to tell my family about it.’ That’s pretty much how I felt,” said De Sousa, who had been held out of games by KU to open the 2018-19 season.
On Feb. 1, the NCAA announced that De Sousa officially would not be eligible for game action until the first game of the 2020-21 campaign, “because his guardian received payment from a university booster and agent and agreed to receive additional funds from the same person.”
“Knowing the truth is what kept me positive,” De Sousa said Wednesday. “I knew I was innocent since Day One. That’s why my mindset was so different. I kept myself in a good position. I did not throw fits to the NCAA. I was like, ‘I know I didn’t do anything and was innocent since Day One,’ so I was keeping my mind fresh and taking it one day at a time.”
De Sousa said he was heartened by the support of KU’s fans while he was seated in the NCAA’s penalty box.
“I can’t thank them enough. They’ve been behind me since Day One. They always show support and love,” De Sousa said of fans who regularly interacted with him on social media.
De Sousa entered his name in the 2019 NBA Draft pool on April 19. He said he worked out for five teams (Atlanta, Chicago, Sacramento, Utah were ones he mentioned) and said the resulting feedback from coaches and general managers was positive.
However, De Sousa immediately withdrew from the draft once he received word he was eligible for his junior season at KU.
“I mean I believe in myself. I was sure I would be drafted,” De Sousa said. “I just wanted to play so bad (at KU). I wanted to make people realize who I really am and kind of get a better spot for next year’s draft.”
De Sousa said he believes it’ll be a “battle” for the starting frontcourt position next to senior center Udoka Azubuike.
“Everybody wants to play. David (McCormack) played great last year. He had a good season. I”m going to have to battle, fight every single day and try to earn the spot,” De Sousa said. “We have so many good players that came back or didn’t leave. We’re going to have a pretty good team this year.”
De Sousa said he’s been working on his jump shot in an attempt to provide a strong 1-2 punch with Azubuike, who will be more a prototypical center, not leaving the paint area on offense. De Sousa plans on being a stretch 4.
“Right now, I’m focusing on trying to get my shot better,” said De Sousa. He averaged 4.0 points and 3.7 rebounds a game in 20 games his freshman year at KU. “My 15-footer, jump shots. I am trying to figure out and learn what should I bring to the team this year. This is pretty much my focus now.”
Of playing next to Azubuike, he said: “That wouldn’t be a problem. We play two different positions.”
Azubuike was joined by KU junior walk-on guard Chris Teahan as a counselor Wednesday during the morning session of Ballard’s Washburn camp.
Azubuike — he has been fully cleared to participate after rehabbing his surgically repaired right wrist — said he has a lot to work on this summer. First session of summer school at KU opened on Tuesday.
“I’m still not 100 percent yet,” said Azubuike, who had surgery on his right hand on Jan. 9 in New York. “(I need to) Get back to full fitness, start working on my game and get better. I need to get back in shape.”
Azubuike — he did not enter his name in the 2019 draft pool because he’d have been unable to work out for NBA teams as he rehabbed his injury — said he’s happy to be back for his senior year.
“It’s exciting,” the 7-footer from Nigeria said. “I’m just coming back from injury. It is weird. Just yesterday I was a freshman. Now I’m a senior. I’m looking forward to the challenges.”
In a very short interview with reporters at camp, he acknowledged he’d be humbled by any preseason All-America or player of the year awards that come his way. He recently was listed as one of six early candidates for the Naismith Trophy.
“I mean that’s a great opportunity,” Azubuike said. “If it happens, it happens. Right now I’m just focused on the team and myself getting better, getting in the best possible shape, doing the right stuff, putting my team in the position to be successful.”