Duke junior Rasheed Sulaimon has been difficult for coaches to deal with throughout his Duke basketball career, and Thursday afternoon the school announced he had run out of chances. After the team returned from its road trip to Notre Dame, Sulaimon was dismissed from the team.
He is the first player to be kicked off the team in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 35 years at Duke.
“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “It is a privilege to represent Duke University and with that privilege comes the responsibility to conduct oneself in a certain manner. After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”
Multiple sources close to the program confirmed that it was a recurring conduct issue with Sulaimon, and the final straw came during the Notre Dame road trip. In the 77-73 loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night, Sulaimon came off the bench, like he had in all 19 games this season, playing 12 minutes. He had fallen behind Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow and Matt Jones in the crowded perimeter rotation.
When the coaches decided to play Sulaimon on Wednesday night, they didn't know he would be off the team by Thursday afternoon. He is in good academic standing and is expected to finish the spring semester, according to the release.
Sulaimon was certainly talented – but he could never get out of his own way in terms of attitude and conduct. His best season at Duke was his first, when he played in all 36 games, starting 33 of them. After the Blue Devils lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight, it was Sulaimon who was the most visibly upset when reporters were allowed into the locker room after the game.
His minutes and production fell every season after that.
The summer after his productive freshman year, Sulaimon played on the USA Basketball 19-and-under team that won the FIBA World Championship in Prague. When he spoke to reporters back in Durham that July, Sulaimon spoke about how his relationship with Krzyzewski had grown since the end of his freshman year and what he expected his role to be as a sophomore.
“This year, I know what to expect,” he said then. “I’ve come back, I’m a returning starter now. I feel like my role is going to grow, and mostly it is going to grow as a leader.”
As it turned out, Sulaimon didn’t keep his starting role in his sophomore year. Krzyzewski had told him to improve his conditioning in their end-of-year meeting his freshman year, but he arrived out of shape the next season. When Krzyzewski had his first preseason press conference on Sept. 27, he went out of his way to make clear that Sulaimon wasn’t guaranteed to start and that the team would revolve around Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
That talk continued at October’s ACC media day.
“Rasheed had a really good freshman year, but we also had no competition because Seth (Curry) couldn’t practice, he just played,” Krzyzewski said then.
Sulaimon’s low point his sophomore year came in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, when he did not play against Michigan.
“As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do,” Tyler Thornton said after the game. “We need him. That’s all I can really say about that.”
This preseason, Sulaimon spoke of needing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. After starting 33 games as a freshman and 17 as a sophomore, he never started this season. He went from playing 29.2 minutes as a freshman to 25.6 as a sophomore and 19.8 as a junior. His points-per-game average dropped every year, too, from 11.9 to 9.9 to 8.1, respectively.
Players have certainly transferred from Duke – in the past five years, Semi Ojeleye, Alex Murphy and Michael Gbinije have left. Andre Dawkins was told to take a year away during the 2012-13 season to work through depression and grief related to the death of his sister, but he was welcomed back the following season. And Joe Cook, on the team from 1987-1990, couldn’t stay academically eligible.
But Sulaimon’s lasting legacy at Duke will be the distinction of becoming the first player Krzyzewski dismissed.