LAWRENCE — The date Bill Self targeted as the likely point this Kansas basketball team settles into an identity has arrived, but the team remains an unfinished product.
The up-and-down development of KU’s biggest wild card entering the season’s home stretch could determine whether the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks ever get there.
“I still believe this: I said it would be Feb. 1 before we kind of know where we are. I think we have a better idea of it,” Self said Thursday. “We’re still not a complete team until (Silvio De Sousa) starts giving us more, because he’s very capable of being one of the better 6-(foot)-7 or 6-8 guys in our league.”
Potential remains the key word for De Sousa, who has yet to do more than make cameos in his six college contests.
De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward who joined the Jayhawks (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) in late December and received clearance to play ahead of a Jan. 13 home contest against Kansas State, hasn’t played more than two minutes in any of the team’s last four contests. He showed promise in his second game, a seven-minute appearance at West Virginia where he scored his first collegiate points and grabbed three rebounds, but the last four games have been a struggle for the former five-star recruit who classified early out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He’s played a combined seven minutes in those four contests, scoring no points with no rebounds while committing four turnovers and five personal fouls.
Self said the team remains unsure of what De Sousa’s role is moving forward.
“I’d like for it to develop,” Self continued. “He’s had a bad last two Big 12 games. Three turnovers in one minute (against Oklahoma). The other day (against Kansas State), (Dean) Wade gets six points and he has a turnover in one minute. He really hasn’t had a chance to do much.”
Self, though, admitted he must exercise patience, even if longer leashes for De Sousa in those contests may have made a KU defeat more likely.
“I need to keep him out there, but right now I would say his head’s spinning,” Self said. “I mean, it’s spinning. It’s going too fast for him.”
De Sousa, Self said, is showing flashes of being “terrific” in practices. When he’s on, he brings high-energy play, above-average rebounding and a knack for going after the ball.
“He is going to be terrific,” Self said. “He just hasn’t been able to probably get the minutes nor the opportunities, nor is he quite confident enough for that to translate to the games yet.”
Two of De Sousa’s teammates, Malik Newman and Mitch Lightfoot, have also seen those flashes.
“I actually have been seeing ’em, but we ain’t rushing him, trying to get him ready to play now,” Newman said. “Coach is right: He has been showing flashes, and his flashes are like, ‘Man, he did that? Wow.’ We know he got it. It’s just a matter of time of him getting comfortable in the system and just translating from the high school to the college level, just going out there and relaxing and playing.”
Lightfoot, the player De Sousa has identified as most helpful in mentoring and helping integrate the Angola native to the college game, agreed with Newman’s sentiment.
“It’ll come to him. It’ll click,” Lightfoot said. “I remember first getting here thinking everything was three times speed. I was like, ‘Whoa, what the heck is going on?’ But it’ll come to him.
“He’s getting so much better every day in practice. He wants to get better, so it’ll happen.”
Newman specifically recalled a moment in practice where De Sousa has grabbed a rebound, beat everyone up the floor and finished with a dunk on the other end, along with other instances of “crazy” blocked shots and dunks.
If the in-game struggles have affected De Sousa’s confidence, Newman hasn’t seen it.
“He’s had high spirits. I think he’s having fun,” Newman said. “I know it’s a little frustrating trying to learn things and we expect him right away to kind of, ‘Hey, you in, you should know it.’ I know it could be frustrating for him at times, but I think the guy’s enjoying himself.”
Still, any nerves that come with playing for a team with national championship aspirations in the airtight Big 12 conference are to be expected. It’s pressure Newman told De Sousa to block out during a recent conversation where the freshman approached the sophomore guard for advice.
“I think right now when he gets in he kind of presses himself like, ‘I’ve gotta play good or Coach is going to take me out,’ ” Newman said. “I told him, ‘Just relax. Right now just focus on rebounding like Coach says. The ball is going to find you.’ He agreed with that and said that’s one of the things he’s going to work on.”
While Feb. 1 may have been too lofty an expectation for De Sousa’s full integration, the forward may not be as far away from meaningful contribution as his recent play would suggest.
“You can just see the wires aren’t quite connecting, but they’re getting closer. There’s a chance they may touch each other here pretty soon,” Self said. “They haven’t quite done that yet.”