LAWRENCE — Known as a pure scorer, Malik Newman is earning a bit of a reputation as a straight shooter off the court as well.
Speaking to the media Friday morning in advance of the No. 12-ranked Jayhawks’ 11 a.m. Saturday tilt with rival Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse, Newman was asked about the shooting prowess of freshman forward Silvio De Sousa, a former five-star recruit who joined Kansas from the high school ranks in late December but is awaiting the NCAA’s amateurism clearance to appear in games.
As he’s done so often this season, Newman gave a candid and honest response.
“He’s not a good shooter right now, but he can shoot it,” Newman said. “He made a couple that we was like, ‘Wow, he made that?’ ”
Informed later of Newman’s “not a good shooter right now” comment regarding De Sousa, coach Bill Self agreed — but couldn’t resist taking a playful jab at his sophomore guard.
“I could also say that about Malik,” Self said.
While De Sousa and fellow freshman forward Billy Preston each await word on their NCAA eligibility efforts — and with the Jayhawks (13-3, 3-1 Big 12) playing with only sophomores Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot in their frontcourt — Self has acknowledged he doesn’t expect his team to reach its final form until early February.
That doesn’t mean he’s not already thinking ahead.
Self has integrated both De Sousa and Preston into the team’s primary rotation in recent practices and is developing a feel for what the Jayhawks would look like with one or both cleared to appear in games. In the case of the 6-foot-9, 242-pound De Sousa, that likely means a process filled with baby steps.
“He’s been with us long enough that I’d trust him to play in a game,” Self said. “I don’t know that I’d trust him to play in the last three minutes or four minutes, but play in a close game midway through the second half? Absolutely, no question.
“It just probably depends on the situation, but a late game, first game in, I don’t know that I’d put that on anybody.”
An Angola native who played high school ball at IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla., De Sousa appears to have better odds of receiving approval to play this season than Preston, who has yet to make his collegiate debut as the NCAA sorts through KU’s findings on the financial picture of a vehicle he was driving on campus. In De Sousa’s case, the NCAA must simply process grades, transcripts and standardized test results as it does for all incoming athletes, though that typically occurs in June.
If De Sousa is indeed approved for in-game action, Self said much of his usage will depend on the type of lineup he feels suits KU best in that particular contest. The Jayhawks have leaned entirely on a four-guard lineup through their first 16 contests, and any two-big set featuring De Sousa will take some getting used to for the team’s guards as well.
“When (De Sousa’s) in for Doke, I don’t have any problems at all,” Self said. “But when Doke and him are in there together, that would be OK. If he and Mitch are in there together, that would be fine — he could still play the five and Mitch could play the four.”
That second look, De Sousa on the court at the same time as the 7-foot center Azubuike, seems to fit more of the inside-out style Self made his trademark and ran almost exclusively in his first 13 seasons at KU until last year’s squad and freshman sensation Josh Jackson made the four-guard lineup a possibility and eventual constant. If De Sousa and Azubuike do see the court together this season — and Self has expressed his goal is to get close to a 50-50 split between four-guard and two-big lineups — the coach said that package could produce “a lot of good looks offensively,” though it may have its own drawbacks as well.
“You know, the thing about Doke is, and let’s just be real candid: If Silvio’s posting, Doke’s man is not going to be that far from him,” Self said. “The way that we’ve always tried to play is in-and-out where if one is in the other’s out and that sort of stuff. That probably won’t be quite as effective, but even little things like Doke setting a ball screen provides a great opportunity for Silvio to be one-on-one in the post.
“So we have to kind of figure that out and understand those things, and Silvio’s got to understand those things on how to score, but I see good potential.”
The most obvious perk of a De Sousa-and-Azubuike frontcourt could come in what has been arguably KU’s biggest weakness to date.
The Jayhawks rank seventh in the Big 12 in rebounding margin (plus-1.4), are ninth in the conference in both defensive rebounding percentage (69.7 percent) and offensive rebounding percentage (26.8 percent) and have out-rebounded a Power Five opponent only once in 10 tries.
“When the ball’s in the air, who goes and gets it? I see mainly that as being the biggest addition,” Self said. “Where we’ve got to figure it out is how we’re going to guard because we’ve been switching everything (defensively) and now obviously we won’t be able to do that quite as much with two bigs in.”
One of the biggest focuses for De Sousa in his two-plus-week stint at KU has been conditioning, where he is putting in extra time with strength coach Andrea Hudy. During Thursday’s practice, Self made De Sousa run what the coach called “a totally exhausting drill” in front of his teammates — “He was all excited when he finished it,” Self said. “Then I said, ‘Now on the line, you guys do this, this and this.’ ”
Self said he would classify the freshman’s conditioning at this point as “lacking,” but that may not be as big an issue as one would think in the team’s immediate future.
“When your conditioning is not as good, sometimes I think you pace yourself,” Self said. “He’s not going to play enough early on that we’re going to expect him to play 10 straight minutes. It’s going to be short spurts, so there’s no reason he can’t give us two to three to four minutes where his energy level’s very high knowing that he’s probably not going to be in much longer than that anyway.”
Through the whirlwind introduction to college basketball, De Sousa has maintained an “absolutely terrific” attitude, Self said, despite having perhaps the most on his plate of any Jayhawk in terms of on- and off-the-court obligations.
As for his shooting, well, like most things involving De Sousa, consider it a work in progress.
“He’s not going to play to make an 18-footer. That’s not what we’re going to play him to,” Self said. “Around the basket I think Malik would say (De Sousa’s) shooting is much better. He does have a nice touch, there’s no doubt about it, but expecting him to come in and be a pick-and-pop guy and stretch the defense from beyond the arc, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“Will he be that? Absolutely, but I don’t think he’s ready to do that after two weeks.”
KANSAS STATE AT NO. 12 KANSAS
Tipoff: 11 a.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Line: KU by 12½
TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Topeka Jayhawk Club watch party: Lazy Toad
Next for KU: at No. 6 West Virginia, 8 p.m. Monday, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.
Next for K-State: vs. No. 9 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. Tuesday, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
KANSAS STATE (12-4, 2-2 Big 12)
P Player … Ht. … Cl. … Pts. … Reb.
F Makol Mawien … 6-9 … So. … 5.7 … 3.4
F Dean Wade … 6-0 … Jr. … 14.6 … 6.5
F Xavier Sneed … 6-5 … So. … 11.4 … 4.4
G Barry Brown … 6-3 … Jr. … 16.9 … 2.8*
G Cartier Diarra … 6-4 … Fr. … 5.1 … 1.7*
NO. 12 KANSAS (13-3, 3-1 Big 12)
P Player … Ht. … Cl. … Pts. … Reb.
C Udoka Azubuike … 7-0 … So. … 14.6 … 7.7
G Lagerald Vick … 6-5 … Jr. … 15.3 … 6.0
G Svi Mykhailiuk … 6-8 … Sr. … 16.9 … 4.0
G Marcus Garrett … 6-5 … Fr. … 4.0 … 4.9
G Devonte’ Graham … 6-2 … Sr. … 18.1 … 7.5*
* — Assists