Dressed in a gray sports coat and beige turtleneck, University of Kansas basketball power forward Silvio De Sousa leapt to his feet in the stands of New York’s Barclays Center shortly after 10 p.m. June 20.
He draped his left arm around his best friend, Bruno Fernando’s neck. De Sousa then patted the University of Maryland forward on the back with his open right hand four times and closed right fist once, the two reacting emotionally to a monumental moment in the history of the Republic of Angola.
De Sousa’s buddy since childhood, Fernando had been selected by the Philadelphia 76ers as the 34th overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft and immediately traded to the Atlanta Hawks, a team that recently signed him to a three-year contract worth $4.7 million.
The proceedings definitely called for a heartfelt embrace.
“He is the first player from Angola to make the NBA … I was really happy and thankful for him. I appreciate what he accomplished,” De Sousa, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound, 20-year-old junior from Luanda, Angola said of Fernando, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound, 20-year-old sophomore also from Luanda — the capital of the duo’s native land located on the west coast of southern Africa.
“I mean we are brothers as long as we’ve known each other. I was just thankful,” De Sousa added of his emotions on draft night.
De Sousa revisited the 2019 draft on Friday night at the Hardwood Classic AAU tournament at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, where he served as a judge for the event’s slam dunk contest with KU teammates Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun. The contest was won by Zack Span of the Minnesota Magic; Spencer Bain of MOKAN Elite won the three-point contest.
De Sousa reflected that there was no way he was going to miss the big night of Fernando, who buried his head in his hands and shed tears immediately after getting selected by the Sixers.
“I actually did. I wanted to,” De Sousa said with a smile, asked if he had hoped to beat his pal in a race to make the NBA first. “It is what it is. It happened. I’ll follow his steps now,” De Sousa added.
De Sousa may be just one year away from being the second Angola native to be taken in the draft. After playing just half a season his freshman season at KU after leaving IMG Academy in December of 2017, De Sousa missed his entire sophomore campaign because of NCAA eligibility issues.
After being declared ineligible for not only the 2018-19 season but also 2019-20 by the NCAA, De Sousa won an appeal and has been practicing on campus all summer knowing he’s eligible to play in games this upcoming season.
“I have been practicing a lot better now,” De Sousa said, noting he was a bit anxious during a Bill Self camp scrimmage game attended by several hundred youths and a dozen media members back in June. His shot wasn’t falling that day and he appeared a bit rushed on offense.
“I can keep up the pace. I mean, I am sure I was excited just to be on the court. I will be during the season, too. I’ve still got to get better,” he added.
De Sousa said it’s been fun competing with a group of KU bigs that includes 7-foot, 270-pound Udoka Azubuike, 6-foot-10, 265-pound David McCormack and 6-foot-8, 225-pound Mitch Lightfoot.
“I’m extremely excited and happy to get to play,” De Sousa said Friday night.
He’s convinced KU will be able to use two bigs on the court at the same time in 2019-20.
“Definitely, for sure. We have the ability to do that,” he said.
Asked to describe the group of bigs, he said: “Off the court we are nice people. Once we are on the court we don’t know each other. We practice like we don’t know each other.”
Sophomore guard Agbaji says De Sousa has had a stellar summer worth of workouts.
“He is getting better every day,” Agbaji said. “He’s kind of picking up where he was last year at practice, always playing hard. It’s what we like about him, this attitude where he always comes to work.”
KU’s players, who have been in Lawrence since the start of June, will soon be allowed to return to their hometowns for their one extended break of the school year. Summer school ends Friday, July 26. The 2019-20 school year begins Aug. 26.
“We’re released to go home. I’ll be home Wednesday for about a month,” Agbaji, a 6-foot-5 sophomore-to-be out of Oak Park High School stated. “It’s usually our only long break besides winter break (which is) a couple days.”
The Jayhawks also usually head home for two weeks between end of school year and the start of summer school.