Catching Up With Rasheed Sulaimon
Feb. 7, 2013
Prior to starting at Duke University, Blue Devil freshman Rasheed Sulaimon played on a pair of USA Basketball teams in 2012 – the USA Junior National Select Team that participated in the annual Nike Hoop Summit and the USA U18 National Team that claimed gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
The 6-4 guard from Houston, Texas, has started 20 of 21 games as a freshman and is averaging a Duke third-best 11.8 points per game to go with his 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the 19-2 squad. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman on the No. 4 team in the nation. Obviously, being coached by a Hall of Famer and two-time U.S. Olympic Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski, helps bring out the best in players, from incoming freshmen to perennial NBA All-Stars such as Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd.
Not only has Sulaimon been tutored by one of the game’s top minds at Duke, he spent part of his summer last year being tutored by three of the nation’s premier coaches in Florida’s Billy Donovan, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and VCU’s Shaka Smart.
Sulaimon readily admits he learned a lot from the trio of USA U18 coaches.
“We had three great coaches – Billy Donovan of Florida, Shaka Smart of VCU and Mark Few of Gonzaga – three of the top coaches right now in college basketball,” he said. “So, I was like a sponge and tried to take as much as I could from them.”
In helping USA Basketball qualify for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, Sulaimon checked in for a USA fourth-best 10.0 points and 3.4 rebounds a game. In going 5-0 en route to the gold medal, the U.S. squad overpowered opponents by a 38.6 ppg. margin, scoring 97.2 ppg. and limiting foes to 58.6 ppg. In fact, the closest game was a 19-point victory over host Brazil in preliminary play.
This summer will see USA Basketball vying against 15 other U19 national teams for the FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal. It won’t be easy. In the last six U19 Worlds, there have been six different countries that claimed gold, including the United States in 2009.
Sulaimon is hoping for an invitation to the USA U19 World Championship Team training camp, but even that will see tougher competition than last summer as most guys will have a year of college under their belt and everyone will have gotten stronger.
That doesn’t worry Sulaimon too much. He knows what he’ll need to do to make the team.
“When trials do happen, (I need to) work extremely hard and try to be a team player, because one thing that I’ve learned playing with a couple of USA Basketball teams I’ve played on, it’s all about the name on the front of the jersey.”
Sulaimon has learned a lot of X’s and O’s from Coach K since arriving on the Duke campus. However, he’s also soaked up information imparted by Coach K’s stories of seven years of coaching the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. About how Bryant heads to the gym before practice and puts up extra shots to stay on top of his game. Or how Kidd in his first team meeting set the tone for the team in terms of responsibility, being on time and putting the team first.
“He tells us about all those guys on the Olympic team, they’re great talents, the best players in the world and one thing that he always tells us is that even they came together, put their egos aside, gave it their all to represent the United States,” said Sulaimon. “Just hearing that about the greatest players in the world, and the sacrifices they made at a personal level to help the team get better is really inspirational. We can use that here at Duke. If I’m playing for the U19 National Team next year, it’s definitely a huge thing I took from it that I can help the U19 team.”
What else did Sulaimon have to say about his time with USA Basketball? Read the full Q&A session with him below.
You played on two USA Basketball teams last year – the Hoop Summit and the U18 National Team – and got a taste of international competition. What do you think about the FIBA rules and the overall international game?
It’s a lot different than how we play the game here in the States. The game around the world, you really have to know how to shoot. They’re really skilled overseas. No matter what position they play, all of them are very skilled and they can all shoot very well. So, you always have to adjust and always know where your man is.
What are some of your best memories from last summer’s team and your trip to Brazil?
Definitely winning the gold medal. I’d never been out of the country before and Brazil was a great experience and I love my teammates, but nothing would have been better than us winning the gold medal at the end.
Do you still keep in touch with teammates regularly?
Yeah, I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys. Jerami Grant, who goes to Syracuse; James Robinson, who goes to Pitt; Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State; Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee; the list goes on. I keep up with all those guys. We really formed a brotherhood and really represented our country well over the summer. We became really close.
With both of your parents coming from different countries, did it ever cross your mind to play for Nigeria or Jamaica, or have you always wanted to play for USA Basketball?
To be honest, it never crossed my mind. One of my dreams growing up was always to represent the United States in some form or fashion. My goal is to ultimately play on the national team. The U18 was a great experience and I’m glad I accomplished one of my goals. I’ve always dreamed of playing for the USA.
Did you pay close attention to how the USA team was playing in the Olympics?
Yes, I did. For two reasons: I love the USA and I love basketball, so I really followed them. But, also just to watch my future coach, who is my coach now, Coach K, lead them to a gold medal.
Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympians – Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams – first played internationally on the 2002 USA U18 National Team. Would you list that as one of your goals, to progress through USA Basketball to the Olympics?
Yes, definitely. Like I said, that was one of my goals growing up. Hopefully, God willing, if I stay healthy and continue to develop as the player I think I can be, I would definitely one day want to be a part of the Olympic team.
I’m sure you went to numerous camps growing up that featured collegiate coaches as clinicians, but playing for college coaches on the U18 team is something altogether different. Do you think that prepared you for playing at Duke?
It taught me a lot about the international game and also it gave me a taste of what to expect, what to look for in college. We had three great coaches – Billy Donovan of Florida, Shaka Smart of VCU and Mark Few of Gonzaga – three of the top coaches right now in college basketball. So, I was like a sponge and tried to take as much as I could from them. They have a lot of wisdom and I learned a lot about the game of basketball in general in what to look forward to when I stepped on campus here at Duke.
Are you hoping to be able to compete on the USA U19 World Championship Team this summer?
Yes, that is one of my goals as well, to continue and progress throughout the USA Basketball developmental teams. If I get the opportunity I would play for the U19 team again this year.
If so, what do you think you need to do in order to make the team?
Just continue to get better each and every day. When trials do happen, (I need to) work extremely hard and try to be a team player, because one thing that I’ve learned playing with a couple of USA Basketball teams I’ve played on, it’s all about the name on the front of the jersey.
Does Coach K talk about his experiences coaching the USA National Team? If so, have you picked up anything from any of his stories about what the guys on the USA National Team do to compete at that level?
Yeah, all the time. He tells us about all those guys on the Olympic team, they’re great talents, the best players in the world and one thing that he always tells us is that even they came together, put their egos aside, gave it their all to represent the United States. Just hearing that about the greatest players in the world, and the sacrifices they made at a personal level to help the team get better is really inspirational. We can use that here at Duke. If I’m playing for the U19 National Team next year, it’s definitely a huge thing I took from it that I can help the U19 team.
USA Basketball just announced the roster for the 2013 Hoop Summit. What bit of advice would you give to the guys on that team when they’re preparing to take on the world team at the Hoop Summit?
Don’t take it for granted. Last year I think a lot of guys took it for granted. I believe we were better than (the World) Team, but we lost. You never want to be on the losing column, especially when you’re representing the United States. So, don’t take it for granted, respect your opponent and play as hard as you can. Like I said, it’s not about any individual fame. It’s all about winning for the United States.