A couple recent departures from the University of Kansas athletic program that deserve a few words.
First, late last week Silvio De Sousa announced he was leaving the basketball program. KU, like every Power 5 sports program, has a long list of players who were “disappointments.” Silvio might be at the top of KU’s list.
During the 2017–18 season, when Billy Preston was ruled ineligible and Udoka Azabuike was injured, De Sousa seemed like a gift from the hoops gods. A top 40 high school recruit with an NBA body who chose to graduate from the IMG Academy in December and enroll at KU for the spring semester. He might not be a star, but he was an inside player who might make a difference.
He immediately faced eligibility challenges, which kept him off the court until February. He was a mess at first, but righted the ship for the Big 12 tournament when Udoka was again hurt. And he came up huge in the late moments of the Midwest Region championship game against Duke, after Dok had fouled out. He played great D. He got some huge rebounds against Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter. He made a difference in the biggest moment and his future seemed bright.
Until his name popped up in the Adidas/FBI scandal a few weeks later. What followed was one of the most bizarre two years you could imagine. The immediate short-term ineligibility. The two year ban by the NCAA. The public outcry by Bill Self and Jeff Long, which was soon joined by several national voices. The appeal and declaration that Silvio would be eligible in 2019–20. A difficult year in which he never seemed comfortable or looked as explosive as he had in March 2018. And, finally, the brawl and chair incident against Kansas State.
A lot of folks thought Silvio should be done at KU after that fight. Self stuck by him, but there was the wonder if there would be a mutually agreed upon exit following the season. And maybe that was set to happened before Covid hit. But Silvio remaining a part of the program through the summer and then fall boot camp makes his departure a little curious.
Add all that up and you get a supremely disappointing career, at least when you look at the expectations-to-results ratio. It is made all the more worse by Silvio being the most obvious reason for KU likely going on probation, Self’s job being in jeopardy, and the 2018 Final Four appearance being vacated.
Which, of course, isn’t fair. Silvio didn’t take the money, his guardian did. Silvio didn’t rank himself compared to other high school seniors, dozens of “experts” did. Silvio didn’t declare himself a savior for a program in need, the fans and talking heads did. He deserves all the blame for the brawl, or at least for turning a minor moment into a major one. But KU fans shouldn’t put all the NCAA stuff on him.
Sadly Silvio De Sousa will turn into a footnote of KU history. The game has changed so much in just three years that losing a big man a couple months before games begin barely registers. This just opens more minutes for any of KU’s 19 wing players to get on the court and ensures Self will stick to a four smalls, one big lineup.
Pooka Williams was the one thing that made KU football worth watching. And, even then, that interest was severely diluted by Pooka’s performance dropping off this year thanks to an even worse offensive line than he played behind his first two years. But his departure still removes the only thing that made KU football games remotely interesting: the chance you might see him do something incredible.
He claims he wants to be close to home and his mother who is in bad health. There’s no reason not to believe that is the primary reason for leaving Lawrence.
But based on the lack of shock by the reporters who are closest to the team, there had to have been rumors about this for weeks. And I’m guessing those rumors, and the reality of the situation, are based entirely upon Pooka seeing that the offense this year simply doesn’t give him a chance to put up big numbers. Worse, it was likely to get him injured as defenses keyed on him. So why not go back to Louisiana, rest and heal for a bit, then train with all your buddies at LSU in preparation for next spring’s draft before a missed block against Oklahoma gets your knee blown out?
Pooka was truly a gift from the football gods, one which the KU program did not deserve. But KU, honestly, doesn’t need guys like Pooka. At least not right now. Pooka doesn’t win games for this program in its current state, he just gives you moments of delight in the midst of despair.
No, what KU needs now are the boring guys who will show up and play for 3–4 years, getting a little better every day and every game and every season. Once you have linemen who can actually open holes and protect quarterbacks, once you have guys who can line up and remember the snap count, who can avoid penalties, who can just run the plays the way they are drawn up and give them a chance to work, once you have 50–60 of those guys, then, that’s when you need a Pooka.