First-generation American Sulaimon thrilled to bring U.S. gold

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 09:33 PM

A son of immigrants, first-generation American Rasheed Sulaimon’s feelings for representing his country run deep.

Having returned from the Czech Republic this week after helping USA Basketball win the FIBA U19 World Championship, the Duke sophomore guard clutched his gold medal while expressing his pride Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“I would have to say that was probably my proudest moment in my life to call myself an American,” Sulaimon said. “I didn’t realize how important it was until we actually won. To have that flag around me, that gold medal around my neck, my hand over my heart. To hear our national anthem play while we were champions, it just really made me proud.”

A starter on Duke’s 30-6 team last season, the 6-4 Sulaimon made the ACC’s all-Freshman team and averaged 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

At the World Championships last week, he started seven of eight games for Team USA and averaged 8.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He tied for the team lead with 15 made 3-pointers, making 40.5 percent (15 of 37) of his shots from behind the arc.

 Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Sulaimon went overseas for the second summer in a row to help USA Basketball win a gold medal. Last summer, he played in the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Brazil.

Sulaimon’s father, Kenny, is from Nigeria. His mother, Angela, is from Jamaica. So these overseas experiences with USA Basketball carry a special meaning for him.

“This country has done a lot for me,” Sulaimon said. “Anything I can do to give back to the country ... If I can give back to my country just by playing basketball and representing it to the best of my ability I’m going to do that. I’m glad that we did actually represent the USA in great fashion and come back with a gold medal.”

Making the USA Basketball roster for a second summer in a row meant more experience with Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who served as head coach for both teams. This summer, Donovan was assisted by Virginia head coach Tony Bennett and Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart.

Sulaimon said the staff laid down many of the same guidelines as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic teams to gold medals.

“The big thing about this was sacrifice,” Sulaimon said. “Coaches, players we were going to have to sacrifice our egos to represent the country. It’s not about individual goals. It’s about what’s best for the team. Everybody left their egos at the doors and we were all sponges. We had three great coaches.”

Now that he’s back on Duke’s campus, Sulaimon is taking classes in the second summer school session. He was in his Tuesday markets and management class less than 24 hours after arriving back from Europe.

He’s also back working on the court with his Duke teammates as they prepare for next season. With three seniors from last year’s team now gone, Sulaimon expects to help fill a leadership role even though he’s only in his second season at Duke.

His international experiences from the last two years figured to aid in that quest.

“My role will change drastically this year,” Sulaimon said. “Last year I was just a freshman trying to make my way, trying to keep my head above water and trying to learn new things. This year, I know what to expect. I’ve come back. I’m a returning veteran, a returning starter. I feel my role is going to grow, mostly as a leader. We have other leaders in Quinn (Cook), Josh (Hairston) and Tyler (Thornton) as well. But I feel like I can step into that role as well.”

Sulaimon looks at Cook, Duke’s returning starter at point guard, as well as 6-foot-8 Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, touted 6-8 incoming freshman Jabari Parker and the rest of the Blue Devils roster and thinks big.

“We have a lot of talent on our team,” Sulaimon said. “If we get good leadership, we can all gel together as a team and we can have a very special season.”