LAWRENCE — A wide-eyed freshman at a powerhouse men’s basketball program, Christian Braun has a plethora of resources to learn from in his on-court development.
But speaking Monday, Braun pointed to a non-basketball skill held by a Kansas teammate — forward Silvio De Sousa — as integral not only to himself but to everyone on the No. 4-ranked Jayhawks.
“With all Silvio’s been through, it’s crazy that he can stay so positive and so energetic through it all,” Braun said. “If you’ve ever met him he’s like that all the time, through everything. So it really helps the team just get through adversity and the stuff that is tougher for us to face because we’re all pretty new to this right now. There’s a lot of situations we haven’t really seen, so his positivity really gets us through things like that.”
De Sousa, who missed his sophomore campaign after the NCAA ruled him ineligible, acknowledged his junior season hasn’t gotten off to as fast a start as he would have liked. But on the heels of his best showing — an 11-point, six-rebound effort in 22 minutes in the Jayhawks’ 112-57 thrashing of Monmouth last Friday at Allen Fieldhouse — the Luanda, Angola, native sees signs his highly anticipated return to action is trending toward his own lofty expectations.
“I didn’t really pay too much attention to (the offseason hype) to be honest,” De Sousa said. “Like I said, I’m having a slow start this season. It’s going to be a long season, so I’m not really concerned about all this stuff. I’m just here to control what I can control. Whatever I can take care of, I’m doing.”
Against Monmouth, De Sousa drew his first start of the season, replacing sophomore forward David McCormack at the four-spot alongside 7-foot senior center Udoka Azubuike. While Self observed that McCormack ended up being KU’s best big in that particular contest, he said after the outcome that De Sousa had earned the right to ascend to the starting lineup, at least in that particular tilt.
De Sousa has a hunch why Self made that comment.
“I think he said that because for the past few practices I’ve been doing a lot better,” De Sousa said. “I think now I have figured out what I have to do on defense to help the team, so that’s probably why he said that.”
A natural five-man, De Sousa has had to adapt to the different offensive and defensive skills needed when instead playing alongside Azubuike.
Work remains to be done on those fronts — Self said he is “a little concerned” about De Sousa’s lack of scoring explosiveness, and questions remain about just how good everyone in the frontcourt can be when tasked with guarding the 3-point line — but everything for the moment appears moving in the right direction as KU (2-1) prepares to play host to East Tennessee State (3-0) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
On the issue of explosiveness, Self said De Sousa has displayed that ability “maybe a little bit” more at practices than he has in games, but noted he “still labors to score with anybody behind him.”
“But Silvio’s capable,” Self continued. “He just needs to get his legs under him, get some confidence and have something good happen. There were a couple of good things that did happen the other night for him, but probably not the level that I’m believing that could occur on a more consistent basis.”
Braun noted he and teammates witness De Sousa’s next-level athleticism on a regular basis.
“Silvio’s probably right behind Ochai (Agbaji) as the most athletic player on our team with just explosiveness and other things like that. But we see it every day,” Braun said. “We’re just waiting to see it in a game, and once it happens, once it clicks for him, it’ll really take off.”
There is very noteworthy precedent for De Sousa’s ability to break out of an early slump.
As a freshman, De Sousa was virtually unplayable after joining the Jayhawks at midseason, spelling Azubuike for only momentary bursts where his inexperience was on full display. But pressed into greater duties following Azubuike’s injury ahead of that year’s Big 12 Tournament, De Sousa answered the call — his efforts the rest of the way played a significant part in KU not only winning that tournament but advancing to the Final Four.
De Sousa sees the parallels.
“You know, I feel like I’m having the same start, which I shouldn’t. But you know, I’m just here to control what I can control,” De Sousa said. “Whatever I can take care of, I’m doing. ... The (season opener against Duke) I feel like, it took me back to when I got here my freshman year. But then it’s like I was thinking, I’ve been here long enough to figure out things and know what I’m doing. So you know, right now, like I said, I have been doing a lot better. I think it’s been pretty good.”
As Braun indicated, one can expect De Sousa to approach both good times and bad the same way — with a smile on his face and an innate positivity that De Sousa doesn’t quite know how to explain.
“I just try to be the best version of myself,” De Sousa said. “I think every day I don’t change. I’m the same guy every single day. The way you saw me yesterday is the way you’re going to see me today, and that’s just always trying to make somebody else’s day better.”