Rasheed Sulaimon is attempting to achieve something that Deron Williams and Stephen Curry, among other notables, couldn’t do: win gold with the U.S. men’s Under-19 basketball team.
Three more wins this weekend in Prague would give the Duke guard and his U.S. teammates that distinction — a rare feat, as it would be just the third gold in the past 27 years for this age group. But with talent such as Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Jahlil Okafor (No. 1 recruit in nation according to ESPN.com) and Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) also on the roster, the U.S. would seem to have a good chance to pull it off.
Team USA is currently 6-0 in the tournament and is the lone undefeated nation heading into Friday’s quarterfinal game against Canada. Sulaimon has averaged 10.2 points while playing 20.3 minutes per game.
“Just playing against that level of competition and sacrificing and focusing on one team goal is definitely going to help me when I go back to Duke and we try to start our journey for the national championship in the NCAA,” Sulaimon said after the team’s practice at Verizon Center before the team left for Prague.
Sulaimon is confident not only in how this journey will help him develop, but also in the team’s chances to win gold.
“We believe we are the best at this sport in the world; we just [have] to go over there and prove it,” said Sulaimon. “We have a lot of talented guys right here who are top in the nation in high school, going to top colleges, and who will be attending top colleges next year. I think we definitely have the tools and talent to go out there and compete and win the gold.”
Sulaimon is aware of the struggles of this age group for USA Basketball, and insists that this team will stop the negative trend. For this team, it will start with an ability to make long-range shots.
This is a focal point for the team due to the poor performances of the past. Last year the U18 team shot 25 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in the U18 world championship in Brazil, though finishing in first place. Sulaimon’s teammate Gordon raves about the Duke guard’s touch.
“He can shoot the [heck] out of the ball,” said Gordon after a Verizon Center practice. “He can really shoot the ball, man.”
“Everybody here is talented, everybody here is good,” Sulaimon said. “The key thing for this team’s success is sacrifice. People have to sacrifice roles, dive on the floor and [get] defensive stops for the greater good of the team. I think if we all buy in, as I think we are right now, I think we’ll be just fine. “
Sacrifice is a word USA coach Billy Donovan has instilled in his young team and the group has bought in so far.
“We really have talked about being a team for these three weeks,” Donovan said before the tournament. “In order to be that way they have to be prepared to sacrifice. Maybe one game it’s one lineup could be good, another game it could be a different lineup. They’ve got to be willing to sacrifice for what’s best for the team.”
Throughout the workout on the Wizards’ practice court before the team departed for the championships, players were willfully diving for loose balls, helping aggressively to cover each other on defense and playing with game-like intensity. Donovan was pleased with the effort.
“I like our team,” he said. “I like their attitude, their effort. Their work ethic has been really good.”
They’ve done the job so far. Now all Sulaimon and his teammates need is to keep it up through the weekend.