One on one with Rasheed Sulaimon

Before he and the rest of the U-19 USA Basketball team headed off to the World Championships, rising Duke sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon sat down for a one on one conversation with TDD.

I read that you've sustained some sort of injury during the camp…

Rasheed Sulaimon: Yeah, it was in the preliminary trials. I had kind of hurt my wrist and it created an issue on my hand. I just had to wrap it up good and I'm ok to get out and play with it. I'll be alright.

How does it feel having made it onto the team?

It feels great, really. Last year, having tried out for the U18 team, and this year getting the invite to come back and try out and to actually make the team…I'm just extremely blessed and have been placed in a great opportunity with 11 other really talented individuals on a great team. We've been put together and we'll try and go over there and win the gold medal, which the United States has only done twice in the last 26 years. We're up for the challenge and it's been great so far.

How big of a factor is it that you get to play with guys you've been friends with for a while?

Oh, it means a lot. Marcus [Smart] and I have known each other for a long time, since we were very young we've been competing against each other since we were in 2nd grade. I've known Justise Winslow for my whole life as well and I have gotten closer with Jahlil Okafor recently. It just shows all these guys, it's special, i've made a connection with every guy here already. The chemistry we have developed should really help us in Prague.

What are you looking forward to the most about the travel and off the court stuff of being on this team?

Just being with the guys, we've been having some greats times already, that's what helped us last year, having the community we built on that team and going over to New Zealand and actually winning it. I'm planning on bringing the same thing to this team, just that tight knit bond. Some of the new guys are getting along already, we're all gelling already. That's the thing that makes it most special, is just having that bond with guys off the court.

Duke players talk about representing the Duke "brand" when they play for teams like you are playing for-is that something you are cognizant of?

Yeah definitely, it just comes with the territory of Duke, whether you have already played for them or are playing for them currently or even if you are committed to them. There's just a certain way you carry yourself, that just shows the brotherhood that we have at Duke as a program. Coach K has been there for a very long time and all the players he's coached still come back and speak to us. Luol Deng and J.J. Redick just to name a few show the bond and brotherhood we have at Duke. We always represent not only ourselves and our families, but also the Duke brand and Duke reputation.

How do you personally represent that Duke brand to players you know who are  considering being a part of the Duke program?

I didn't understand it when I first got here, but after our tough loss last season against Miami, some of the guys that are in the NBA right now, they reached out to us and were very concerned and they talked about it with us about being a part of the Duke program and what that meant, both on and off the court. You have to play with a certain toughness and no matter how bad things are going on the court, you have to play with that Duke toughness. The person who really represents that the best I feel is Shane Battier, he's what the program is all about.

How has a year at Duke changed you as a player?

I think, first and foremost, I feel I am more mature. I carry myself differently. Learning how to compete against all those athletes in practice, I've learned how to get to where I need to be to get a good shot, how to get a good shot, what's the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. Going into my second year, I know what to expect and I think I can take the next step and first and foremost, try to be a leader, the rest will take care of itself.

Players talk about the biggest jump they make is in between their freshman and sophomore years oftentimes in college, what are you hoping to improve on this off-season?

It all starts with being a leader, all those guys last year took me under their wings when I got on campus, showed me the ins and outs of the program, what to expect. It's a tradition and now it's my turn to show the freshman what being a Duke player is all about. Secondly, I'm a returning starter, of course my role is going to be greater. I'm improving my ball-handling, getting stronger and faster to take that next big leap.

Duke's going to be really different this year with much more size and athleticism on the wing as opposed to the post area like last year, what are your thoughts on playing on such a new kind of team compared to last year's team?

Yeah I think we're going to be drastically different as a team. Last year we had the best big man in the country with Mason Plumlee, and two great senior players and leaders in Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. This year we're going to be faster, more athletic and very versatile. Last year we played slower because our strength was int he post. This year we're more athletic on the wing, so we're going to do a lot more running, probably do some pressing, it'll be a fun style of basketball. We'll be getting up and down the court a lot faster and we'll spread the court on offense as well. It'll be very interesting to see how this season pans out.

How does that amount of running affect your game on both ends of the court?

At Duke, it's always about defense first. On the defensive side we're going to press up a lot more than we did last year on the wing because this year we have the size and athleticism to do that. After every shot or steal, make sure we get on the fast break and beat teams up the floor. Our size and athleticism gives us the opportunity to beat a lot of teams up the court.

Having practiced against him for a year, how good is Rodney Hood going to be for Duke this year?

Rodney Hood is going to be very good for us, and it's not going to be a surprise, I'll tell you that. He can score in a plethora of ways, he's hard to guard, he can dribble, he's very athletic, he's got a smooth game and can shoot it from three, and he has a great midrange game and he's also a great defender. The other thing is his leadership, he's a great leader. He's not very outspoken, but he sets a great example. He came to practice every single day last year and competed hard, which was very impressive. Everybody's excited and know what he's capable of, he'll add multiple dimensions to this team.

How exciting is it for you personally knowing you're running the wing with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood this year?

Oh, very very exciting, it'll be crazy how competitive our practices will be this year. We're going to be pushing each other to make each other better. Those guys are future pros, and they can create or get a shot at any time, so it makes it easier for guys like me and other teammates. I'm very impressed that they are very team oriented, and I'm sure the whole team and staff is looking forward to seeing them.

What can we expect from Amile Jefferson this year?

Amile is a guy that will do whatever Coach asks him to do. He's a great player in his own right, and he has very long arms. He's going to be a mismatch down low, he'll be very active and have great energy. He'll do more than he did last year and will be a big part of the team's success.

There could be a pretty big decision for you after this year regarding playing professional basketball. Have you given that any thought?

I'm not really thinking about that whatsoever. My main focus is on the team and helping it win and to be the best player I can be to help the team win a championship. We'll talk about the league when the right time comes, but all my energy is focused on improving my game and to help this team win games.

As you prepare for your second year, what's the message for the fans?

From my personal perspective, I just want to tell everyone its going to be a very exciting year for our team. We're putting all our effort into each and every game and we're going to make you proud to be Duke fans each and every day. It's going to be a very exciting year.

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