Behind The Scenes With Rasheed

Curious about what goes into a high school player's commitment to a major university to play college basketball? TDD's Steve Clark talked with Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon who provided a behind the scenes look into his decision to play for Coach K and the Blue Devils.

TDD: Now that the commitment has happened, how are you feeling?

Rasheed Sulaimon: I am just really excited more than anything. Duke is such a great program and I know that now I'm a part of something that is really special. I mean, I'm going to play for Coach K and the pressure is off now for me for the rest of my high school career. I don't have to worry about any more recruiting or coaches calling me, I'm excited to be a Duke Blue Devil.

Did you know going into your visit for the Duke vs North Carolina game that you wanted to commit?

To be honest, I was feeling Duke in a lot of ways, but I wanted my parents to visit Duke to see what I had seen before when I had a chance to visit. I knew that if I felt 100% sure and my family was supportive that I was going to make a commitment, and the visit just blew me away.

How did your family take to the visit and your wanting to commit to Duke?

The thing that stood out to me and my family was the family atmosphere that the entire team and coaching staff had. You can tell that the staff cares a lot about their players and they showed me and my family how much they cared about us.

Going into the visit, being honest, my mom and dad were already liking Duke a lot and while we were still there the first night, my parents and I were together and they actually brought it up to me to ask me how I felt about everything. They both told me how comfortable they were with every aspect of Duke and the program and they said if I was ready and felt good, they were more than ready to support me.

The thing with my parents is that academics are extremely important to them and also to me, and we all recognized that Duke's reputation is as a Top 10 school academically and they knew that Duke was a good fit for me in every way, academically, socially, and with the team.

What specifically do you think convinced you and your parents that Duke was such a great fit?

Where do I start? With the program, you can just see the atmosphere in the fan base towards the team. They absolutely love and support their team and with the coaching staff, and their style of developing players is exactly what I was looking for. The guards at Duke are free to make plays and Coach K demands that his guards play good pressure defense which is something that I pride myself on.

Once we got to Duke, the team and the staff welcomed me and I just fell in love with the whole program, they accepted me for who I was and what I could bring to the team. My family and I got to meet with the team's academic advisor and it was really cool to see how he already had a plan for me to pursue a degree in finance/business at Duke, which is what I want to get into after my basketball playing days are finished.

You mentioned the team making you feel welcome from the start, can you share how they made you feel so comfortable?

I think in any new type of social setting, I'm a shy person by nature, and it's very easy to be uncomfortable in a new social situation. I was real passive at first, but guys like Nolan, Dre Dawkins, Kyrie, Seth, Tyler, Josh Hairston, it just seemed like the whole team came up to me and were like, "we'd love to have you here with us". I got a chance to spend a lot of time with them and we became great friends. I got a chance to spend some time with Nolan after the game and he introduced me to some of the traditions at Duke. He took me to the bonfire after the game and he mentioned that the only time Duke students burn benches is when they beat North Carolina or win the National Championship. The fans were coming around us and it was real crazy because as many people knew Nolan, a lot of them knew who I was and were telling me how much they wanted me at Duke and they just knew about me. It was pretty special to experience that from Duke students knowing that the team had just beaten UNC and here they were asking about me and how I liked Duke so far.

Nolan has gained a reputation for being the big brother to younger teammates, did you notice that at all in your time you spent with him?

Absolutely. Nolan is such a great guy. He's so easy to talk to. He was giving me a lot of great advice from his experience of transitioning from high school to college, he said that in a lot of ways coming to Duke, you learn about being committed both on the court and off the court. He told me a lot about life at Duke and how you need to make the most of your opportunity to be a Duke basketball player and a Duke student and he just told me how great it was to play for Coach K for four years. He said he developed a lot as a person and a player while here and Duke's a special place to play.

You mentioned the family atmosphere at Duke as important to you and your parents, can you share how you family came to experience that?

The thing that's great about Coach K and the Duke program is that he actually has his family involved in every aspect of the program. His assistants are all former Duke players, so they all talked to me and my family about that family atmosphere that Duke has. My mom and me and my dad, we got to meet all of Coach K's family. We met his wife, his daughters, their family and we were surprised at how hard they were recruiting us, even more so than Coach K seemed to be. You can tell how much Mrs. K and her children care about Coach K and the guys on the team, and they just made my mom and dad and myself feel like a part of the family. They wanted to know all about who we were and it was really great to see Coach K and how he related to his family.

Take me through meeting with Coach K, what did you talk about with him?

It was great to be able to have so much time with Coach K. We had a long conversation in his office right next to the locker room before the game, and we got to meet after the game as well and then we met in the morning the next day where I told him I wanted to commit. The thing with meeting Coach K and spending time with him, it's like you are thinking, "I'm talking to a legend right now. It's surreal, I'm talking to a Coach that everybody knows, his team is on TV all the time, he's a national champion, he's coached the National Team and he wants me to play for his program. It's just unreal, but then he just made me feel so comfortable, like after awhile I stopped feeling like I was talking to Coach K and instead I was talking with Mike Krzyzewski.

When we were in his office during our first meeting, he brought up where he saw me as a player and a person in his program and how he lets his guards play. He said he loves my versatility and he said he was wanting to play me as a 1 and 2 guard. He also explained to me what Duke is doing in their recruiting for the next couple of years and I know for me, I can listen to Coach K and learn a lot from him. He made me feel so comfortable when he was explaining to me how he saw me in his program and I was agreeing with everything he was saying.

When did you make the decision to commit and how did Coach K react when you told him?

I actually told Coach K the morning after the game that I wanted to commit to the program after having talked about it with my parents the night before. He was shocked when I told him, and his reaction just blew me away. He said he wasn't expecting a commitment at all from me while I was there, but then he came up and we hugged for a good minute or so and we just talked about how excited we both were that I was going to be a Duke Blue Devil. We went downstairs then and he actually stopped the team while they were in the middle of a workout with Coach Stephens and he told all of them that I was a part of the family now and they all rushed up and hugged me and were saying how excited they were that I was a part of the team now. It was such an emotional moment for me, to know that I'm going to be playing with those guys, for Coach K at Duke, it doesn't get any better for me in my mind.

We haven't even talked about the game itself yet, what was that experience like?

Hands down, Duke vs UNC is the best rivalry in all of sports and it's not even close. I was sitting right behind the Duke bench and Coach K and I was just cherishing the opportunity I had to be there watching the game in the moment. The fans, they were just so dedicated to their team and you can tell that the Crazies give great energy and the team feeds off that energy. On the bench and on the court, every player and coach is dialed in and focused and you can tell that Coach K wants what's best for his players and you can tell that his players respond to that and they want to play as a team, together. Even on the bench, you can see how encouraging and uplifting players were. I noticed Kyrie during the game being really energetic. He was talking a lot to players, telling them to play D, every guy was excited for the guys on the court whenever they made a play on defense or offense. The game itself was really exciting, and it was great to see Duke come back in the 2nd half. It got so crazy loud in there, it was a great experience to be there.

Now that you are committed, are you thinking about doing any recruiting of fellow players?

You better believe I will be. Coach K talked with me about who they are recruiting for the next couple of years and I'm going to be talking with Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker. I know both of those guys really well and I'm going to be talking with them about coming to Duke with me to be part of something special. Other than that, I'm going to focus on my high school team and us accomplishing our team goals.

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