Rasheed Sulaimon first met Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon at a basketball camp when he was 13 years old, but little did he know that meeting would help him revive his basketball career eight years later. Just three days after Sulaimon made an unofficial visit to College Park, the former Duke guard committed to play at Maryland on Monday.
“The way they embraced me and accepted me, they just made everything feel at home. Tying in that with the relationships I already had with the coaches, it kind of just made Maryland the clear-cut choice,” Sulaimon said in a telephone interview.
The past six months have been turbulent for the former Blue Devils star, 21, who was dismissed from Duke’s team in January. Still enrolled at Duke, he is expected to graduate this summer with a degree in sociology and join Maryland’s team in August.
A highly touted recruit from Houston who started for the Blue Devils as a freshman in 2012-13, Sulaimon’s Duke career ended this year for reasons that are still unclear. On Jan. 29, Duke announced that Sulaimon had been dismissed from the basketball team because he “repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations,” according to a statement by Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Sulaimon became the first player Krzyzewski kicked off a team in his 35 seasons at Duke, and he remained on campus as a student while his former teammates won a national championship without him.
In early March, about a month after Sulaimon’s dismissal, Duke’s student newspaper, the Chronicle, published a story that reported two women had anonymously accused Sulaimon of sexually assaulting them in separate incidents. The women made the accusations in group discussions at student retreats, the Chronicle said, and declined to go to law enforcement or cooperate with campus investigations of the allegations. Krzyzewski and Duke officials, citing federal law protecting student privacy, declined to answer any questions about Sulaimon’s dismissal, saying only that they handled any allegations of sexual misconduct properly.
While federal law requires colleges to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct involving students, Duke would have had trouble investigating if the women declined to talk to campus officials, as the Chronicle reported. Sulaimon denied the allegations Monday.
“I would never do anything to hurt a woman,” Sulaimon said. “The allegation was baseless. It was investigated by Duke. It was found to be unsubstantiated, and that’s the reason why I’m in good academic . . . standing at Duke. I just have to live my life. I have to take one step at a time. I have to move forward.”
Close observers of Duke’s men’s basketball program knew Sulaimon ran into problems on the court as well. Krzyzewski criticized him for showing up his sophomore year out of shape. Sulaimon’s playing time dwindled as a junior this past season, and he was reportedly kicked out of practice several times. Sulaimon said Monday that his dismissal from the Duke team had no connection to the sexual assault allegations.
“These last couple of months have been hard for me personally and for my family,” he said. “To still have the opportunity to have coaches still believe in my talents, its very reassuring. I just feel blessed.”
Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, although his production waned after that season. His shooting percentage dipped by nearly 7 percent as a sophomore, when he averaged 9.9 points and 2.4 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 7.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 20 games as a junior before his dismissal.
A few days after Sulaimon was dismissed from Duke, Maryland’s staff reached out to his family, Turgeon said. More than a dozen schools reportedly contacted Sulaimon, a former McDonald’s all-American who has pre-existing ties to Turgeon and men’s basketball assistant coach Dustin Clark.
While Sulaimon was in high school, Turgeon, then head coach at Texas A&M, recruited him heavily. Luring him to Maryland years later was an expansive process this spring. Turgeon said that along with his staff, Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and university President Wallace Loh vetted Sulaimon’s recruitment. Sulaimon met with Anderson and Loh during his visit Friday.
“We were very thorough in this whole process. We did our due diligence, starting with myself, Coach Clark, my staff, Kevin Anderson and his staff, and then Dr. Loh and his people,” Turgeon said. “So we really did a lot of work on this, and we just felt like, my relationship with him, knowing him, knowing the family, he’s a bright young man. We just felt like he would be a great fit for us.”
Maryland had been searching for a shooting guard to fortify its depth on the perimeter in the wake of losing guards Dez Wells and Richaud Pack to graduation. The Terrapins were in the running to add former Drexel guard Damion Lee as a graduate transfer in April, but Lee opted to sign with Louisville.
Sulaimon’s commitment is the latest move in what has been a very active offseason for Maryland. Freshman Melo Trimble and junior Jake Layman announced they would return to school next season after flirting with declaring for the NBA draft. In April, Maryland signed blue-chip center prospect Diamond Stone, a Milwaukee native who spurned Wisconsin to join the Terrapins.
“I’m going into a place where I trust the coaches. They have a great thing going on,” Sulaimon said. “I just want to help contribute and be a part of something that is bigger than myself.”