LAWRENCE — Bill Self is obviously disappointed in Silvio De Sousa for his role in Tuesday night’s late-game fight with Kansas State, a melee that resulted in the junior forward’s 12-game suspension.
But make no mistake: Kansas basketball’s head coach will always be proud of De Sousa, a point Self made crystal clear in a news conference Friday.
“I believe he’s conducted himself in a way (in the past) that people know this is not his character, people know that this is not who he is as a man. It certainly doesn’t excuse what transpired,” Self said of De Sousa, who threw the first punch in the fracas that also resulted in the Big 12's suspensions of teammate David McCormack (two games) and a pair of Wildcat players. “I feel for him. I can say things in the privacy of a room that no one here will ever be privy to, nor should they be.”
“If my son or daughter makes a bad, bad emotional decision or mistake, I know one thing: I’m not going to quit loving them,” Self said. “He’s ours, and I’m proud that he is.”
Now, both De Sousa and KU must turn the page on what’s been an ugly chapter for the program.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks (15-3) will play host to Tennessee (12-6) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, a should-be anticipated contest that’s instead taken a backseat to the drama stemming from the 81-60 victory over the Wildcats. With McCormack and De Sousa out, KU will be down to one big — senior center Udoka Azubuike — for the matchup with the Volunteers and a quick turnaround date at Oklahoma State (8 p.m. Monday).
Despite the likelihood of deploying five-guard lineups, Self said KU won’t change its identity in either game — “What you see is what you get, and that’s basically how it’s going to be,” he added.
“Our team will be shorthanded, but to me, that’s not the big picture. This is bigger than your team being shorthanded for two games,” Self said. “This is (about) how are you going to react to somehow make a negative situation at least less negative, because I’m not sure you can make it positive, but you can certainly make it less negative by your reactions and how you handle yourself moving forward.”
Self reiterated that Tuesday’s scuffle was an “embarrassment” and that he has “incredible remorse” for what transpired. De Sousa is “crushed,” a “terrific young man that made an awful, emotional decision,” the head coach said.
While Self knows De Sousa faces a long road to improve his own image nationally from the figure millions saw brandish a metal stool during the melee, he also acknowledged that his entire team faces a similar rehabilitation.
“I think it will be a lasting image for our program and for (De Sousa) for a long time,” Self said. “I know that’s not anything that we’re proud of, but all we can do is try to be the best we can moving forward, and that’s what we’re going to attempt to be, and (De Sousa) will certainly lead the way in being that.”
Still, Self indicated he wishes some of the team’s recent less-than-flattering headlines would be separated from his players, who he said had nothing to do with two of the other biggest negative stories.
“Our players didn’t have one thing to do with Snoop Dogg. That was an administrative decision. Our players didn’t have one thing to do with the NCAA (notice of allegations). That was adults. And you could say, well, that’s on us — that will all play out to determine what the facts are with that,” Self said. “Our players had something to do with this, and we have to own it. Certainly they will be painted with the brush of what has happened. I hate that they may be painted with the brush of things that they had nothing to do with, but that’s the reality of today’s time and obviously how our sport is covered.”
KU stresses that pride and ego have no place in the game “as much as anybody” — “I guarantee you,” Self said. Still, that five- to seven-second window Tuesday “in which it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong ... went wrong,” caused a bad situation to spiral out of control.
Self on Thursday shed light on the first known injury stemming from the skirmish: video coordinator Jeremy Case, who broke his right arm attempting to break up the fight. Case lunged into the middle of the fray but landed awkwardly and will be in a sling for the next four weeks.
“Being a coach isn’t just about peaks. It’s about valleys, too, and certainly (the fight) was a low point. I accept that and we’ll grow from it,” Self said. “I’m very thankful more than anything else that it didn’t escalate where it could’ve been worse, because it obviously could’ve been.”