LAWRENCE — On an afternoon when his athletic director twice got emotional when discussing what has become a disheartening situation, Silvio De Sousa smiled, smiled and smiled some more.
A little over an hour after Kansas basketball rallied around the ineligible teammate to a 16-point home victory Saturday over No. 16 Texas Tech — the sophomore forward leaping to his feet after dunks, throwing up celebratory gestures for 3-point makes and shouting in joy throughout — De Sousa turned to emojis.
“KU & THE FANS,” tweeted De Sousa, with four finger emojis pointing toward a heart.
It was the latest public comment from De Sousa on an ordeal that’s dragged on since October and, given remarks Saturday from KU coach Bill Self and the aforementioned athletic director Jeff Long, a saga that the NCAA’s hammer-down ruling hasn’t brought to a close.
De Sousa must sit through the 2019-20 season, the collegiate athletics governing body determined Friday, the result of an investigation into impermissible benefits allegedly transferred from former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola to De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, during the player’s recruitment process. During last October’s federal trial of three Adidas executives, Gassnola testified to giving Falmagne $2,500 and scheduling another $20,000 payment, though he said the latter transaction never occurred.
De Sousa, who joined the Jayhawks in December 2017 and averaged four points and 3.7 rebounds across 8.8 minutes per game in 20 appearances as a freshman, has yet to play this season.
Long on Friday called the NCAA’s decision “clearly an unfair and punitive ruling” for De Sousa, who the governing body never accused of being aware of any illicit transactions.
During a pregame news conference that saw the athletic director twice pause to collect himself, Long went further.
“I remain profoundly disappointed at the NCAA’s decision, which effectively takes away the college basketball career from a young man who did nothing wrong,” Long said in an opening statement. “I’ve been involved in college athletics for many years and at many institutions and have always respected the NCAA and trusted the process, but I must tell you my faith has been shaken.”
KU, Long said, has worked with the NCAA for more than three months to get De Sousa eligible, providing “every witness, every document and every piece of communication” the organization requested. The NCAA required KU take two steps before reinstatement could be considered — declare De Sousa ineligible, which the university did on Jan. 13, and identify Gassnola as “an agent and a booster” for the university, which would be done “only as a hypothetical for the purposes of reinstatement,” Long said.
While disagreement existed between the NCAA and KU on how to define Gassnola’s role, the university moved forward because any other decision on De Sousa’s eligibility would have to wait until the conclusion of the enforcement investigation, which Long said could take “well beyond the season.”
On the wrong end of what it feels is an unjust ruling, KU is “exploiting all avenues of an appeal.”
“Make no mistake: We are determined to fight for Silvio and for fairness in this process. This process simply hasn’t been fair in our view,” Long said. “If the NCAA is trying to send a message or make a statement with an unwarranted harsh punishment, they’re doing it through the wrong messenger in our opinion — a young man that both NCAA enforcement and the institution agree had no knowledge of and did not benefit from the NCAA violation.”
Long said there is no timeline for a decision on the appeal, though he feels the program has a commitment from the Division I Student-Athletic Reinstatement Committee to fast-track the process — “It’s not a simple process, so it will not be a matter of days, but we hope it will happen quickly,” he added.
Asked for his level of optimism entering the appeals process, Long simply expressed faith De Sousa deserves to be on the court.
“You know what? I am confident of Silvio’s innocence in this and he did not benefit from the alleged violation and he did not receive a benefit and he had no knowledge,” Long said, “and so I am hopeful that a resolution will come about where he’ll be able to come again for the Jayhawks.”
If Saturday was an emotional endeavor for De Sousa, the 6-foot-9, 245-pound native of Luanda, Angola, didn’t show it publicly.
De Sousa strode through the Allen Fieldhouse tunnel during pregame warmups and received a hearty ovation when shown on the video boards. During a late-game timeout when De Sousa was again shown on the big screens, he flashed a grin and acknowledged an audience chanting “Free De Sousa.”
Self, who Long said wasn’t provided much information during the eligibility review process, spent part of his postgame remarks lauding De Sousa’s attitude while expressing his frustration with a decision that could effectively end De Sousa’s collegiate career — and perhaps more.
“He’s not good; he’s great. He looked like a model today with his outfit,” Self said. “He’s got a sweet spirit about it and I can’t imagine what is going through his head because right now he’s thinking, ‘Oh my God, am I done? Am I done?’ His dreams of playing in the NBA are toast unless he can go overseas and really turn it out to get chances after that, but that’s not the best way guys make it.
“We’re going to stick with him, and I know (Long) has come very strong in his sentiment on how he feels like this was so wrongly done and we’ll fight it. It’s a tough deal, but hopefully his attitude will stay straight. I don’t think he will run from anything. There is going to reach a point in time where he’s got to make a decision about his future. Hopefully we can work on something to put him in a situation that maybe the penalty can be reduced.”
KU won’t plan on having De Sousa moving forward, but the team also won’t give up on a demoralizing story that Self is hopeful has yet to have its final chapter written.
“I believe that it ain’t over,” Self said. “But you know what? To me, if you knew that something was not right, are you ever going to accept it? And so to me, no matter what happens, based on what was reported yesterday, you’re never going to stop fighting because it’s just not right.”