KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa was benched indefinitely by the top-ranked Jayhawks on Wednesday after his name surfaced in testimony connected with the corruption scandal rocking college basketball.
The 6-foot-9 De Sousa, one of the Jayhawks’ top rebounders, is out while the school and NCAA look into his eligibility. He could miss a good chunk — or perhaps all — of the regular season, which begins with a high-profile game against No. 10 Michigan State on Nov. 6 in Indianapolis.
“The timetable is unknown,” coach Bill Self said.
Self spoke just a few hours before a jury in federal court in New York convicted former Adidas executive James Gato, Adidas consultant Merl Code and NBA agent runner Christian Dawkins of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The trio had been accused of funneling money from the apparel company to the families of recruits at Kansas, Louisville and its other sponsored schools — and the trial was closely watched across the sport as big names came up in court.
Ex-AAU coach T.J. Gassnola testified that he facilitated payments to De Sousa’s guardian in an attempt to steer him toward the Jayhawks. Those payments would have rendered the native of Angola ineligible to play for the Jayhawks. Gassnola said Self and his staff did not know about the payments.
“Information was presented during the current trial in New York — some of which we knew, some of which we didn’t,” Self said before the verdict was announced. “We have decided to withhold Silvio from competition until we can evaluate and understand the new information. We have already discussed trial developments with the NCAA and will continue to work with NCAA staff moving forward.”
De Sousa graduated from IMG Academy last December, joined the Jayhawks for the spring semester and provided valuable interior depth as the school made a deep March run. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds while helping Kansas beat West Virginia for the Big 12 Tournament title, then appeared in every game while helping the Jayhawks reach the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
De Sousa was at his best in the Elite Eight, when he had four points and 10 rebounds while playing 26 minutes in a victory over Duke that sent the Jayhawks into a showdown with Villanova.
Self said during the Jayhawks’ local media day two weeks ago that he was planning for De Sousa to play this season, and De Sousa himself declared, “I know I’m going to play.”
That was just as the trial began for Gatto, during which text messages presented by defense attorneys indicated Self and Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend may have been aware that Gassnola helped to deliver money to De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, to pay for online classes and get out of a pay-for-pay scheme that had been brokered with Maryland. De Sousa committed to the Jayhawks a few days after the text messages.
Kansas officials do not believe last year’s Big 12 title or Final Four will be in jeopardy because De Sousa had been declared by the NCAA eligible at the time.
Self was still at Sprint Center for the Big 12’s media day when the verdict was announced. He said the university would issue a statement later in the day, then he would have a comment.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he anticipates the NCAA will launch an investigation into the corruption case once the federal trials are complete — there are two more to go. But he sidestepped several questions about the Kansas case, calling it “premature” to comment on a sensitive situation.
“The conference and the NCAA have intentionally deferred to the federal governing process and until that process is complete we can’t continue down that path,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby did acknowledge having conversations with Self and Kansas athletic director Jeff Long earlier this week, but he said the corruption case was not discussed in any great detail.
“Well, I know people at all of those companies that are involved and they operate with integrity in the ways I’ve encountered them,” said Bowlsby, a longtime college administrator. “But clearly there is influence in the system and to the extent we can manage it and control it, we ought to do that. And I think that’ll be the step that comes after it, rules that respond to things that have been raised in the court case.”
Kansas decided it couldn’t wait that long, choosing instead to bench De Sousa indefinitely.
The Jayhawk have plenty of interior depth to pick up De Sousa’s minutes. And with a bevy of high-level transfers, including former Memphis standout Dedric Lawson, and one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, they are a trendy pick to win the national title. And using a player later to be deemed ineligible could wipe out what promises to be a big season in Lawrence.
“I don’t really think it will affect nothing,” Lawson said. “Silvio comes to practice every day and we’re here for him and support him. I know it’s a tough time for him but as time goes on the truth will come out. … He just has a clear mind, he has a great spirit.”