Rasheed Sulaimon’s Dismissal is Shocking For Several Reasons

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

Yesterday’s news that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had dismissed junior Rasheed Sulaimon from the team came as a shock on a multitude of levels. First, Krzyzewski had never dismissed a player from the program during his entire tenure in Durham. Second, the Blue Devils had just played the night before, a hard-fought loss to an excellent Notre Dame team in which Sulaimon played 12 minutes off the bench, with a trip to undefeated Virginia on the docket Saturday. Third, it capped a remarkable fall from grace for the once-promising Sulaimon that no one outside of the program saw coming.

Sulaimon's (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Sulaimon’s (left) ouster qualified as shocking news and further depleted a now-thin Blue Devils roster (USAToday)

Reports have surfaced suggesting that the decision to dismiss Sulaimon was a culmination of a multitude of events and that last season’s benching when the Blue Devils battled Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should serve as a starting point. Sulaimon was benched for simply not doing what was asked of him in that instance, but body language has always been an issue for the Houston native as well. He often pouted on the court when whistled for fouls and has at times been seen restraining himself from celebrating his teammates on the bench. Still, because Sulaimon had never been otherwise suspended or even publicly chastised by Krzyzewski, it’s reasonable to wonder what happened in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss in South Bend to make life without Sulaimon a necessity.

Sulaimon’s nearly three-year career at Duke was inconsistent. He appeared to be a rising star as a freshman, averaging 11.6 points per game and shooting 37 percent from behind the arc. His play dipped noticeably last season, however, playing four fewer minutes per contest and averaging 9.9 points a game. The initial thought was that Sulaimon was a casualty of Rodney Hood’s and Jabari Parker’s ballyhooed arrivals, but as the year wore on it was clear that he had lost favor with the coaching staff. Coming into this season, the 50-game starter said all the right things about coming off the bench as Duke’s new dynamic trio of freshmen (Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow) earned starting spots and assumed the leadership reins of the team. Although he was only averaging 19 minutes per game this season, Sulaimon was still shooting at a relatively high clip and had become one of Krzyzewski’s most trusted on-ball defenders.

So what will the impact be on a team that has struggled lately but still clings to national title aspirations? The short answer is that Sulaimon’s dismissal will have immediate repercussions on Duke’s lineups and rotations, as the Blue Devils now have eight scholarship players on the roster. Matt Jones‘ minutes will undoubtedly increase off the bench, and it will probably force Krzyzewski to use freshman Grayson Allen somewhat more often (he averages a mere 6.0 MPG). Without Sulaimon around there’s also less certainty in the ball-handling department after Jones, so Quinn Cook may now need to pull double duty as the starting off-guard and the replacement point guard. There’s certainly adequate time left in the season for Duke to work through this transition, but it had better adjust to this turn of events quickly to handle the gauntlet that is the ACC this season.

While Duke is too talented to allow Sulaimon’s ouster to wreck its season, this is a big loss. His shooting, defense and ball-handling were things that helped the Blue Devils’ second unit remain effective, and his replacements are going to have to adjust to their new roles on the fly. It’s usually a significant blow to lose a veteran voice in the locker room when a team is largely reliant on freshmen, but in this case it may appear that Rasheed Sulaimon was a veteran voice whom Krzyzewski wanted nowhere near the rest of his team.

Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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