The worst came exactly 11 weeks ago when the NCAA told Silvio De Sousa he could not do the thing he left his family in Angola to do, because adults violated rules without his consent or knowledge and did so in a way that did not benefit him.
It is patently unfair, and we’ll get to that soon, but on the day the NCAA suspended him for two seasons, De Sousa did the only thing he could think to do.
He texted his girlfriend, who met him at the gym at McCarthy Hall, where the basketball team lives. They stayed late into the night, for five or six hours.
“I didn’t have much to do,” De Sousa said.
That will change soon, one way or the other. In a meeting with his lawyer and two reporters at a downtown hotel here on Friday, De Sousa said he will enter the NBA Draft — but still wants to stay at Kansas.
The university filed an appeal on his behalf this week. De Sousa’s lawyer, Scott Tompsett, said a decision could be made by the end of next week. Either way, it will determine De Sousa’s future.
If the NCAA makes him eligible next season: “I will be back for sure,” De Sousa said.
If his appeal is rejected: “I will be gone for sure.”
Tompsett has been a lawyer for more than 30 years and has extensive experience with NCAA cases. He said this is “by far the longest re-instatement process I’ve ever been involved in.”
Tompsett described the case as “unusually complex,” and he and De Sousa each praised the diligence of KU officials and lawyers. They worked through how to label Adidas rep T.J. Gassnola, requests for new evidence and various administrative and legal paths that have led to this point.
According to sources, the university’s effort included chancellor Douglas Girod meeting personally with NCAA officials.
Tompsett has said repeatedly that the NCAA has not disputed the assertion that De Sousa was not involved with the rules violations, didn’t know about them and didn’t benefit from them. As part of a letter submitted along with KU’s appeal, Tompsett wrote that there is no evidence that any violations influenced De Sousa’s decision to play at Kansas.
“In all my years doing this work it is perhaps the strongest case I’ve ever seen in what I’ll call the equities,” Tompsett said. “This is a young man who is completely and totally innocent.”
De Sousa spent what would’ve been his sophomore season as KU’s most talented scout-team player. He grew closer with his girlfriend, who plays softball at Kansas, and talked regularly with his parents and brother.
The NCAA spends millions every year to promote itself as the provider of opportunities. The money line from one ad that ran ahead of and during the most recent NCAA basketball tournament: If you have the talent and dedication to succeed in school and sports, we’ll provide the opportunity.
Viewed through the prism of De Sousa’s case, those words are cruel satire. De Sousa has a cumulative 2.79 GPA and is proud to be on track for a 3.5 this semester but is now on the verge of being pushed out of school.
“There’s nothing that Silvio could have done differently in this case to avoid the situation he’s in now,” Tompsett said. “There’s literally nothing. I’m not aware of any legal process, any administrative process, or any quasi-judicial process in this country where we hold somebody individually and singularly accountable for actions somebody else did that they had no control over.”
De Sousa wore gray shorts and a Kansas shirt to Friday’s meeting inside the hotel. He said that when KU coach Bill Self told reporters he asked for an update every day, he meant that literally. Not just Self, either. De Sousa asked assistant coaches, asked athletics director Jeff Long and asked Tompsett. He knew the answer most days but asked anyway.
Two seasons ago, De Sousa played 20 games and averaged 4.0 points with 3.7 rebounds in 8.8 minutes after reclassifying from IMG Academy. But he was at his best late in the season — 6.8 rebounds and 6.6 rebounds in 15.1 minutes in March.
He shared the team high with 10 rebounds in the Jayhawks’ Elite Eight win over Duke, after which Self said, “Who would’ve thought a high school kid three months ago would be the guy we cannot win without going into the Final Four?”
De Sousa was full of promise then. But now, he said, he is “a completely different player.” He looks stronger, and in better shape. He was almost exclusively a rebounder and defender as a freshman but said he has improved his skills — he can face up in the post now, with better shooting and ball-handling.
The NCAA will decide soon whether he can use those skills in college next season. That we are even at this point is bizarre, fundamentally unfair and blatantly hypocritical — an organization, the NCAA, that boasts of providing opportunities doing so much to deny one. De Sousa put his future and trust into this system.
The NCAA has one last chance to be worthy of that trust, or to finally let down an athlete who has already surrendered a full season despite a lack of evidence that he did anything wrong.
“If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t say I’m coming back to Kansas,” De Sousa said. “So, yeah, I still think I have a chance. Just by knowing what I have done and what I haven’t done. Just knowing the truth is what keeps my hopes up.”