Silvio De Sousa says he never lost faith.
De Sousa, Kansas basketball’s rising junior forward, is back with the Jayhawks after losing his entire sophomore campaign due to eligibility issues. On the brink of bolting to the professional level, De Sousa on May 24 received the long-awaited news — his appeal to the NCAA's Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement had been successful, reversing a decision that ruled him ineligible through the 2019-20 season.
Speaking to the media Wednesday for the first time since that life-altering ruling, De Sousa indicated it was the only ending to the year-long story he could’ve envisioned.
“I never doubted,” said De Sousa, speaking at Lee Arena after working with youth at the Brett Ballard Basketball Camps. “Since Day 1 I knew I didn’t do anything and I was innocent, so I was pretty much just kind of relaxed.
“Truth always shows up, and it finally did.”
Still, De Sousa’s path back to the Jayhawks was winding and full of hazards.
After joining the team midway through the 2017-18 season and coming on strong late to help those Jayhawks earn a Final Four berth, De Sousa looked poised for a big role as a sophomore. But testimony and documents at the October trials of three individuals charged in the federal government’s probe into corruption in college basketball alleged improper benefits accepted or agreed to by De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, during the five-star prospect’s recruitment.
While De Sousa and those around the program expressed confidence he’d play — “I don’t see a scenario where I won’t coach him again,” KU coach Bill Self said on Oct. 24 — the program nevertheless decided to voluntarily withhold the forward until the situation could be sorted. Then, on Feb. 1, the NCAA ruled De Sousa ineligible through the 2019-20 campaign, casting serious doubt on his collegiate future.
“In my 30-plus years of coaching college basketball, I have never witnessed such a mean-spirited and vindictive punishment against a young man who did nothing wrong,” Self said at the time. “To take away his opportunity to play college basketball is shameful and a failure of the NCAA.”
After nearly four more months of waiting and a testing of the NBA Draft waters, De Sousa received the favorable appeal ruling. He wasted no time in announcing his return to KU.
“You know, knowing the truth is what kept me positive,” De Sousa said Wednesday. “I knew I was innocent since Day 1, and so that’s why my mindset was just so different, kind of keeping myself in a good position, not throwing fits or something to the NCAA or whatever it was. So I was like, I knew I didn’t do anything and I was innocent since Day 1, so I was just keeping my mind fresh and just kind of taking it one day at a time.”
Still, despite public showings of positivity, it proved difficult for De Sousa not to let his frustrations set in.
“When all of that was going on, I would just, whenever my mom called and asked me, ‘Do you have any updates today,’ I mean, sometimes I wouldn’t pick up the phone because I didn’t want to tell her the same answer over and over,” De Sousa said. “So it was pretty much just, ‘No, I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s talk about something else.’ But then the day I told her, she was so happy. I could see she was more excited than I am.”
De Sousa’s eligibility is a boon not only to the 6-foot-9, 245-pound native of Luanda, Angola, but also to the Jayhawks, who have a suddenly stacked frontcourt that also features seniors Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot and sophomore David McCormack. De Sousa said he foresees no problem playing alongside the 7-footer Azubuike, and to help make that combination work, De Sousa is focusing on improving his jump shot this offseason.
“I’m trying to figure it out and learn what should I bring to the team next year,” De Sousa said. “That’s pretty much my main focus right now.”
If nothing else, it’s clear the returning Jayhawks are happy to have De Sousa, who said his teammates flooded his phone with congratulatory calls and text messages when the good news broke.
“Like I said, the minute I found out, the one thing I felt was just like a really heavy thing that came off my shoulders, you know,” De Sousa said. “It felt great. I was just happy. I couldn’t even be more happy.”