Monday evening, emotion finally took hold of Silvio De Sousa.
The University of Tennessee Chattanooga senior forward was standing across the field near the Mocs bench when David Jean-Baptiste’s 3-point shot pierced the net at the buzzer in overtime, sending the ‘UTC at its first NCAA tournament. appearance since 2016 with a 64-63 win over Furman in the Southern Conference Tournament Finals in Asheville, North Carolina.
De Sousa’s first instinct? Fall and lie on the court, spread the eagle. Then he jumped off and headed to the other end of the track, where the rest of the team – and the UTC fans – were celebrating. By then, five years of frustration had passed.
That’s why, once the initial celebration was over and De Sousa had a moment to himself, tears flowed. Because at that point, none of that – NCAA penalties for things beyond his control, legal issues for things he could have controlled – mattered.
“When you think about the ups and downs I’ve had throughout my college career, it’s crazy how it’s been,” said De Sousa, who spent three years at Kansas, withdrew from the 2020-21 season and joined the Mocs last summer.
“I think back to the last two or three years, those were tough times and now I’m here, I’m going to March Madness where I started when I got to college. It’s just crazy, it’s amazing. I’m just glad the school welcomed me with open arms and gave me another opportunity when no one else seemed to care. I’m just glad to be here.
It helped that during the recruiting process, UTC coach Lamont Paris focused on learning De Sousa as a person, more than just who he had been. Paris said in November he hadn’t met too many 23-year-olds “as caring as De Sousa”, but the fifth-year UTC coach knew he was taking a chance by signing a player at the controversial past. That seems to have paid off, as De Sousa recorded a season-high 14 rebounds and a team-high 17 points in the Mocs’ win over Furman.
UTC striker Silvio De Sousa
Going into next week’s tournament – seeded and opponent UTC will be revealed along with the entire 68-team squad for March Madness on Sunday – the 6-foot-9, 250-pound De Sousa has in averaged 11.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest for the Mocs, whose 27-7 season includes a regular-season and SoCon tournament title sweep.
“I think people’s perception is going to be based on what they see and how they interact with him, that’s why I encourage everyone to meet our players if they can, because they are really people. unique and interesting,” Paris said. “Silvio is focused on a mission, and he’s done everything we asked him to do. He’s a fantastic teammate, and I’m just glad he can come back out there and see him smile when he gets out. in the field.”
When the Angola native left Kansas and the Jayhawks, it was another step in a journey that included time as a prep star in Florida, including at the prestigious IMG Academy. When De Sousa came to Chattanooga, leaving the Big 12 of the Power Five behind for the SoCon, he was looking for another home. UTC, its staff and its players ensured this.
In December, De Sousa wrote on Twitter that he had “fallen in love with the game again”.
“All my life in college, I felt like I was taken advantage of,” he said on Dec. 12. “At one point, I felt like I didn’t like the sport as much. I would think about when I woke up. But now it’s a lot of fun, and I feel like love it love it Just share the land with my brothers there and be around those people they show love me and show me they care about me and that’s why it’s so much easier to fall in love with the sport again.”
And it all came to a head Monday night — in an emotional moment that meant more than a game-winning shot, a conference title or even an NCAA Tournament berth.