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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Mocs forward Silvio De Sousa (22) drives to the basket during the UTC men's basketball exhibition game against College of Wooster at McKenzie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Silvio De Sousa seems like a happy person now.

So much has followed the Angola native's time in the United States, from a standout prep career that had him rated as the 32nd-best prospect in the country back in 2017, to early success at Kansas followed by a sequence of negative events that led to his eventual transfer to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he will be a senior in 2021.

But who is De Sousa? He's not a person that dwells on the negative. He loved his time at Kansas, which started with a Final Four run in his freshman season and ended with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences. He loves to cook: Ask him about his cooking and he'll tell you that his mom, Jean Conceicao, told him that cooking is like murder: "You can't leave any evidence."

Ask him what he can cook and he'll tell you anything. Asked if he could possibly chase former Moc Justin Tuoyo's career blocks record (270) in his final season of college, he smiles and says, "Let's not underestimate the power of our mind," before saying his goal is to get half of that total this season, which would be a school record for a single season. Tuoyo holds the season record with 104.

He's also a big child who loves kids — and he'll also note that "the kids love Silvio."

Last week he went to Orchard Knob Elementary as part of the NCAA's Division 1 Student-Athlete Advisory Council's Civil Engagement initiative, leading chants of "Silvio, Silvio" before dunking a basketball. Some of that comes from De Sousa having three younger sisters, aged 18, 16 and 10. He hasn't seen them since his last time back in Angola, in the summer of 2018.

"I'm not sure how many times I've bumped into a 23-year old person that's as caring to others," UTC head coach Lamont Paris said. "At that event, his face lit up about the prospect that any of these kids could end up being anything in the world. He's just a caring, caring person.

"He cares about fellow man more than himself."

 

LEARNING FROM MISTAKES

To tell the story of De Sousa, one must tell all of it. When he first moved from Angola to Florida nine years ago he did not speak English and would respond "yes" when people asked him his name. He spent time at both Montverde Academy and at IMG Academy — both basketball factories — before deciding to graduate a semester early and enroll at Kansas. He got there and was instrumental in the Jayhawks' run to the 2018 Final Four, grabbing at least eight rebounds in four of his final eight games including a 16-point, 10-rebound effort in the Big 12 championship game against West Virginia.

But a season later, he was declared ineligible for the Jayhawks after an NCAA investigation alleged that De Sousa's guardian had taken money to steer him to Kansas. He was cleared for the 2019-20 season and played in the first 18 games before being suspended indefinitely for his role in a fight at the end of the Kansas State game on Jan. 21, 2020.

When the benches cleared in the final seconds of that rivalry game, and punches were thrown between players on both sides, De Sousa picked up a stool and held it over his head before having it knocked out of his hands. The incident became a national debate about reasonble punishment for brawls in sports.

After opting out of last season, details emerged of an incident on Jan. 1, 2020 where he allegedly punched a man in the eye. In August De Sousa was found not guilty of that incident.

"I always believed that it was all part of growing," De Sousa said. "I was young, and being a young man I was making mistakes. I made some mistakes and made some decisions that maybe I shouldn't. Those decisions — whether they were bad or not — that I made or somebody else made on my behalf, it was all part of growing.

"They were hard times. I think the hardest thing was knowing that I was always the one being punished and I had to deal with it, but I believe in God and God gives the hardest battles to his strongest soldiers, and I believe that maybe things happen for a reason. I just had to figure it out. It was a matter of how do I respond to those things that were happening to me? I wouldn't change my journey for anything."

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Mocs forward Silvio De Sousa (22) drives to the basket during the UTC men's basketball exhibition game against College of Wooster at McKenzie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

 

FINDING HIS FOCUS

De Sousa obviously had suitors after making his decision to transfer from Kansas, but when it came down to it, there was something about UTC that really appealed to him — the team's focus on winning.

"When I got to other schools, the players and coaches were great, but when I'd get there, the players wanted to do things that I'm trying to stay away from," he said. "I'm looking for somebody that will hold me accountable and making sure I'm in the gym getting better. I got to UTC and it was a different conversation. I was like, 'Do you all party here?' and it was like, 'No, they don't get down like that.' That's when I knew this was the place I wanted to go."

He said that seniors David Jean-Baptiste and Darius Banks and sophomore Malachi Smith were influential in his decision.

Now the Mocs have an extra player to solidify the post as they battle for a Southern Conference championship and what would be the program's first NCAA appearance since 2016. That road starts Tuesday with a game at Loyola Marymount at 10 p.m. Eastern in California. The UTC women's journey also begins Tuesday with a home game against Belmont at 7.

De Sousa is relaxed now. He's also happy and focused on the goal.

Most importantly, he feels at home.

"It's a matter of when I look back at my career, did I learn something?" he said. "What have you learned about yourself? Would you make the same mistake? And the answer is no, that's what made me who I am today.

"I'm here. I'm thankful. There were times I would pray and I wouldn't ask God for anything. I would just pray and thank God for putting me in those positions that led me to the place I am today, which is at a beautiful school with beautiful people in a beautiful town with people I love here, so no, I can't complain.

"I can't complain about a journey."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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