By Shaun Chornobroff
Every time the Rider men’s basketball team has taken the floor this season, Malachi De Sousa has had the same routine.
Before a typical game, De Sousa talks to his teammates to see “where their minds are at, what they think the game is going to be like.” Then, when it comes time for the game to tip-off, the 6-foot-6 forward takes his place on the bench and cheers his team on for the next 40 minutes of play.
The junior forward was supposed to make his long-awaited debut for the team on Feb. 6, but the team had to be put on pause days before because of a positive COVID-19 test among tier-one personnel — something it had been lucky enough to avoid since early November when De Sousa and many other members of the team tested positive.
“It was tough because after working out, practicing and trying to get ready to play games, then randomly someday you’ll get told that you have to sit in a box for two weeks,” De Sousa said bluntly. “It’s kind of frustrating and annoying, I feel like you do everything you can to try and avoid this COVID-19 and then you just end up with it anyways… It’s irritating, annoying, it feels like it gets in the way.”
De Sousa isn’t on the floor because of a lack of experience or talent. The junior forward is one of the more experienced members of a Rider roster laden with young players, starting 26 games in his collegiate career. He’s stuck on the bench because he’s ineligible to play due to NCAA transfer rules.
De Sousa was originally expected to sit out the entirety of the season after transferring to Rider from the University of Albany, as most transfers do, but in December the NCAA passed a rule allowing transfers to compete immediately. Unfortunately, De Sousa did not have enough credits for the rule to apply to him, meaning he would be forced to wait until the spring semester to start to play.
“Coming here for a new opportunity and right away you have to sit and watch and cheer your guys on and not really being able to do anything about it. It’s a bummer in that sense,” De Sousa said about having to sit out for his first semester.
The junior may not be the most talkative member of the team, but even he admitted that there were many times he was wishing to be on the floor.
“Honestly, every game, even in practice it kind of sucked because you really weren’t allowed to do much,” the New York native explained. “The game days were the worst part because you practice all week, help your team out all week, then you just have to sit there and watch them go to battle and go to war with another team.”
Despite being forced to miss three months of game time, Head Coach Kevin Baggett has not noticed De Sousa complain or be anything different than the player he recruited.
“He’s been quiet on me, I’ve not noticed anything different from him,” Baggett said. “I mean he’s practiced the same, I’m sure he’ll be nervous when the time comes after not playing almost a whole season at this point being that we only have six games remaining… It’s a long time waiting for him, but I think he had his mind prepared before they passed this rule that they allowed all transfers to be eligible right away to play this year.”
The two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year said De Sousa “goes about his business the right way,” and brings a different element to his team.
“He goes at it pretty hard, not different than most of our guys who go at it pretty hard, just because he doesn’t talk doesn’t mean he’s any more of a high energy or low energy guy,” Baggett explained.
“First and foremost he’s a great young man, he’s going to give you everything he’s got on the court,” Baggett said. “But what I’ve seen as far as him playing at Albany, now being in our program since September, I see an energy guy that will bring something different that we don’t have, especially at the [power forward] position.”
Rider is in dire need of experience and depth at the power forward position, meaning De Sousa’s return could not be more timely. The junior forward has been anxiously awaiting the chance to step on the floor in a Rider uniform.
“I can’t wait for it because you work all this time and that’s what you’re working for at the end of the day,” De Sousa said.
De Sousa prides himself on being a good defender and team player. The six-foot-six forward will finally have a chance to show that to the Rider faithful on Feb. 20 when he and the rest of the team will travel to Hamden, Connecticut, to take on Quinnipiac at 4 p.m.