LAWRENCE — Kansas basketball players, coaches and fans alike have eyed the team’s high-profile season opener against Duke for an entire offseason.
At least one KU player, though, has had his team’s previous showdown with the Blue Devils on his mind much longer than that.
“That was one of the biggest games I’ve ever had. Let me tell you: I think about it every single time of my life,” recalled Silvio De Sousa, the No. 3-ranked Jayhawks’ 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior forward. “Whenever I step on the court it’s just like, dang, I played such a huge game with a lot of people watching, and it was against Duke. Going into (Tuesday), that’s the type of motivation I want to have.”
De Sousa will appear in an official contest for the first time since the 2018 NCAA Tournament when KU locks horns with No. 3 Duke in a 6 p.m. clash in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. De Sousa was voluntarily withheld at the outset of his sophomore campaign and later ruled ineligible by the NCAA, only winning the right to return on an offseason appeal.
De Sousa has every reason to have his last clash with the Blue Devils at the forefront of his mind.
In that Elite Eight contest, the Luanda, Angola, native and then-freshman scored four points, hauled in 10 rebounds and helped a defensive effort that limited star starting forwards Wendall Carter and Marvin Bagley to a combined 8-for-18 shooting performance with 26 points and 12 rebounds in the Jayhawks' 85-81 overtime victory.
“It was a great fight,” De Sousa said of the total defensive effort against Carter and Bagley. “Now they’re in the NBA and I look at them like, whoa, OK, I’m glad I got to play against them before.”
It was a more than meaningful 26-minute run in what was just the 19th game of De Sousa's college career. But make no mistake: the former four-star recruit is capable of mentally multitasking.
“We had a summer for break, and this is the type of game we’ve been working on all summer. Now it’s here,” De Sousa said of Tuesday’s matchup. “So we just, I look at that team over there and I think we’re ready for it. So we’re going to go on Tuesday and give everything we have.”
When it comes to the regular season, it simply doesn’t get any bigger than the Champions Classic, which this year will feature the nation’s top four preseason teams — No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Kentucky will tip off shortly after the conclusion of the KU-Duke opener.
Still an admittedly unfinished product, De Sousa knows enough to be able to warn younger teammates about the potential pitfalls of the environment they’re about to enter.
“When I think about the game on Tuesday, mostly I think about distractions. It’s a lot of distractions out there,” said De Sousa, who averaged four points on 68.1 percent shooting with 3.7 rebounds across 8.8 minutes per game as a freshman. “It’s New York, it’s Madison Square (Garden), it’s all that. There’s going to be a lot of celebrities over there. So it’s like, we have a lot to fight for. It’s not just about Duke. ...
“I was just telling my teammates in practice, ‘You’ve got to stay locked in. You’ve got to stay focused. We can get through it.’ ”
It’d be a mistake, however, to categorize De Sousa’s primary emotion as anything less than giddy.
“Time to go,” De Sousa said. “I’ve been waiting for it.”
Sophomore forward David McCormack will fulfill a lifelong goal Tuesday when the Bronx, N.Y., native steps onto the court at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“It’s a huge honor,” McCormack said. “There’s no arena, no stadium, there’s no presence like it. When you ask for a big stage, it doesn’t get any bigger than there. So to play there and then have plenty of support from my family being there, it’s just going to be a great feeling.”
McCormack, who started at the four alongside senior center Udoka Azubuike in the Jayhawks’ 102-42 thumping of Pittsburg State last Thursday, had no problem explaining how that particular two-big look can be effective both Tuesday and moving forward.
“In so many ways,” McCormack said. “We play to Doke’s strengths and then my strengths as well. I think when I’m up top and since I’ve been working on my shot, it takes defenders away from him. So I help spread the floor but also open it up for him to do his job.”
NO 4. DUKE VERSUS NO. 3 KANSAS
Tipoff: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Madison Square Garden, New York
Records: Duke 0-0, Kansas 0-0
Line: Duke by 2
TV/radio: ESPN/Jayhawk Radio Network (99.3 KWIC-FM in Topeka)
Up next for KU: vs. UNC Greensboro, 8 p.m. Nov. 8, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence