As Duke’s 2013 team entered March, I was begging for one player to get the ball. No, it was not our All-American Mason Plumlee. No, it was not the White Raven who torched the U for 36 points. No, it was not Seth Curry, one of Duke’s greatest shooters of all time.
It was Rasheed Sulaimon. A freshman. The fifth leading scorer on the team.
Sheed may have been a freshman playing with three seniors and an outspoken point guard but there is something special about him. He showed this potential in glimpses. He scored 25 the first time Duke faced Maryland. In the second game against Maryland, he hit three consecutive free throws with seconds left on the clock, after receiving threatening phone calls and text messages from the ever-classy Maryland fans before the game. He dominated the ACC freshman of the year, Olivia Hanlon, and scored 27 against Boston College.
Unfortunately, Sheed never found the consistency needed to carry Duke farther in the NCAA Tournament. I am not blaming him. Like I said, he was only a freshman and the fifth leading scorer on a team full of seniors. However, if Sheed could have taken the next step, Duke could have beaten Louisville and played in the Final Four.
If Sheed learns to play aggressively and assertively every game, he could have a big season this upcoming year. In 2013, he spent too much time watching Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee dominate the ball. Sulaimon needs to play with the aggressiveness Curry showed in his senior year and Austin Rivers showed his freshman year.
Next year, Duke has a plethora of talent and scoring options. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood form a formidable pair in the forward positions. Quinn Cook returns to orchestrate the Duke offense. Then Duke has Andre Dawkins and Matt Jones vying for time in Sheed’s position of shooting guard. The point is this team will have plenty of scoring. But so did last year’s team. Despite an overwhelming abundance of offensive talent, Sulaimon must consistently play aggressively. His ability to drive and slash is unique to this Duke team. Yes, Cook can get into the lane and create. But he cannot finish at the rim like Sulaimon. And yes, Hood should be able to attack the rim. But, given his size, he may have trouble getting around smaller defenders. Sulaimon should be able to enter the lane at will which will lead to easy buckets for him and the rest of the team.
When Sulaimon takes this next step, which I believe will happen season, Duke will have a very good chance to win their fifth National Championship.