The Journal tracked down Turlock High graduate and former Bulldog basketball standout Travis Souza fresh off his final game for the University of California, Irvine, where he made school history. Here's what Souza had to say:
Q. So UC Irvine made it to NCAA College Basketball Tournament for the first time ever this year. Did you and your team have a sense you’d be so successful at the beginning of the season?
A. At the beginning of the season we were picked to win the conference, but we were also picked to win the conference last year as well and we lost in the semis to Cal Poly. So we knew we had the team for it, but throughout the year we kind of had ups and downs. We had our big guy Mamadou (N'Diaye) miss almost the entire season. We had our two guards, Luke (Nelson) and Alex (Young), both get hurt with injuries and miss five to six games each. We had a lot of injuries throughout the year. Then we had another big dude, John Ryan, get hurt as well. But towards the end, right when the tournament came around, we started to get most of the guys healthy. It was our first time the entire year that we had almost the full team, so we kind of got healthy at the right time and started playing well at the right time.
Q. How did it feel to be the one to score the first tournament points in UC Irvine history?
A. It's cool. I really hadn't thought about it until one of my friends Peter Bulisha, he does some radio stuff in the Bay Area, he actually mentioned that and sent me the link. I heard him say that, and I didn't really register it. It was cool to score points, but I never registered it in my head like, “Oh, that's my school's first points ever in the tournament.” So yeah, it's cool. Not many people can say that and I'm happy I could do that.
Q. What’s it like being a part of March Madness? It’s become such a cultural phenomenon and you and your teammates were essentially playing in front of the entire nation.
A. It was awesome. Being the first team in Irvine history to do it, first of all, was pretty cool. And then just being a part of the whole buzz and everything that surrounds the tournament. You know everybody and their brother is pulling out a bracket. You see it on commercials and online, you see it everywhere. You just see stuff about brackets and who's playing who. Just the fact that you’re one of the 68 teams in the country still playing for the national title, and I mean playing these high, major teams and knowing that you're better than some of them. Just being able to play the Rick Pitinos of the world or the Tom Izzos, just having the opportunity to be around that environment is a pretty surreal environment. It was a lot of fun.
Q. UC Irvine was two points away from beating Louisville and advancing to the round of 32. What was the team reaction to getting so close but ultimately falling short?
A. It was kind of what you'd think. It was a sorrowful locker room after. I mean obviously we were proud of what we did, and we knew we accomplished something, but that's not where we wanted to finish. We wanted to keep playing because we know we had the personnel to make a deep run.
Q. Besides playing, were there any off-court experiences that stand out to you from your time at the tournament?
A. Seattle, outside of California, has the most alumni from UC Irvine than any other city in the United States. So we had a little alumni rally thing the day before at a hotel with a bunch of UC Irvine people involved with basketball or who just went to the school. That was cool to see other people and to just walk into the arena and having it completely full, just under 18,000 people, with the support we had. I mean we had people actually wearing blue and gold and wearing UC Irvine stuff, there had to be over 1,000. I was blown away by the support we had, and of course we had the support of the neutral people because they were all rooting for the underdog. It was a cool way to end my college experience.
Q. What was the reaction like from your hometown? Did any friends, former teammates or coaches from Turlock reach out to you during the tournament?
A. Yeah. Tons of family and friends and old coaches; just the outpouring of support was unbelievable. My dad went to the golf course and said he had 10 to 15 people come up and say, “We watched the game here and it was great.” I went to Mundo's restaurant today and just while I was there they were saying, “Oh we were rooting for you. Great game.” It's really cool to know you have that support from your hometown.
Q. This was your senior year, so you’re now done with college basketball. What’s next for you?
A. As far as playing overseas, that will start picking up as far as the agents and the teams showing interest. That will start pretty soon and if I can find something overseas that interests me — I mean I've always wanted to play in Australia, I always thought that would be a fun experience. I know a few people who play over there now and really enjoy it. So if there's something that interests me I'm going to jump all over it, and if not I'm going to use my business degree that I'm finishing up at Irvine and try to pursue that and get a job.