Former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon denied that he had committed a sexual assault and said that his dismissal from the Blue Devils in January was for a separate matter.
"Me being dismissed from the team had nothing to do with this allegation," Sulaimon said in his first public comments since being dismissed by coach Mike Krzyzewski. He did not specify what the reason was, though he said he was frustrated and could have handled the situation better.
"I have never sexually assaulted, not only anyone on the Duke campus, but anyone period," he said. "It's not in my nature at all. I have great respect for the role of women in society. I would never demean or do anything to a woman in this manner. No, I've never done anything like this in my life."
The 6-foot-4 Sulaimon, a McDonald's All American coming out of high school in Texas, was dismissed from the Duke team on Jan. 29. A little more than a month after Krzyzewski announced Sulaimon's departure, the Duke Chronicle released a story that detailed two separate allegations of sexual assault against Sulaimon.
The student newspaper said that the allegations occurred during Sulaimon's freshman year, and that neither female student filed a complaint through the Office of Student Conduct or took legal action through the Durham Police Department.
The student newspaper said that the allegations were brought to the attention of a team psychologist in March 2014, and that Krzyzewski and the rest of the coaching staff was made aware of the allegations later that month.
Duke athletic director Kevin White and the school released a statement on March 3, saying that any student misconduct that is brought to the attention of the coaching staff is immediately referred to the Office of Student Conduct in Student Affairs.
"These investigations are conducted thoroughly, in a timely manner, and with great care to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all students involved," White said in the statement. "Those procedures have been, and continue to be, followed by Coach Mike Krzyzewski and all members of the men's basketball program. Coach Krzyzewski and his staff understand and have fulfilled their responsibilities to the university, its students and the community. As specified by federal law and university policy, all Duke officials, including Coach Krzyzewski, are prohibited from commenting publicly on any specific individual or situation."
Duke told ESPN on Tuesday that it had no further comment on the matter.
"This allegation is just that, a charge that has no proof," Sulaimon told ESPN earlier this week. "There's no proof because I didn't sexually assault anyone."
ESPN contacted Durham police on Tuesday, and there was no report on file involving Sulaimon.
"The university investigated the sexual assault allegation, and they knew it was unsubstantiated so Coach K knew that, too, because I told him," Sulaimon said.
Sulaimon said he met with a representative of the Office of Student Conduct during the winter of his sophomore year regarding an alleged sexual assault allegation that occurred the previous year. He said he was told an investigation was ongoing, and he would have to go in front of the student board if it progressed. Sulaimon told ESPN he was never asked to appear in front of the student board, but did meet a second time in September 2014 regarding the same allegation. Sulaimon said he has never met with anyone at the Office of Student Conduct regarding a second allegation.
"This whole time I've been told about one allegation and I have no idea where the second allegation came from," Sulaimon said. "It's false. It's purely fiction [that there's even a second allegation]."
"The second meeting, after we talked, the tone was a lot lighter," Sulaimon said. "They told me to keep living my life and be a student -- and not to worry about it."
ESPN reached out to the Office of Student Conduct, but the office was unable to provide any information, citing student privacy laws.
Sulaimon was considered a possible first-round NBA draft pick, and contemplated leaving school after a freshman season in which he averaged 11.6 points. After talking to both his parents and Krzyzewski, he returned to school and his role decreased each of the next two seasons -- relegated to a reserve role after starting 33 games as a freshman. His scoring average fell to 9.9 points as a sophomore and he did not get off the bench in a huge matchup against Michigan on Dec. 3.
"I was frustrated with myself and letting myself get to the point where I didn't play in the entire game. Not just any game -- a big game," Sulaimon said. "I felt frustrated, I felt embarrassed. There was even a time when I didn't talk to my parents. I have a very good relationship with them and normally talk to them every day."
Sulaimon believes that was the beginning of the deterioration of his relationship with Krzyzewski.
"I'm a very competitive guy and I believe I should have been starting," he said. "Quite simply, I just got frustrated. In retrospect, in looking back on it, I didn't handle it well at all. My immaturity and me being frustrated with hitting adversity, I think it greatly impacted my relationship with Coach K heavily."
Sulaimon said he also considered leaving school after his sophomore season, but he spoke to his family and decided to remain in Durham.
"I wanted to be at Duke," he said. "I dreamed about it my whole life. Even though I was frustrated, I wanted to be at Duke. My parents didn't raise a quitter."
He watched as freshman Justise Winslow earned the starting spot on the wing prior to the start of this past season, and he came off the bench every game before being dismissed the day after a loss at Notre Dame.
"My frustration only grew," Sulaimon said. "I realize now I could have and should have handled things drastically different, but what's done [is] done. I have no quarrel with Coach K and I'm looking for a fresh start to finish my college career after I graduate from Duke first."
In a letter from Duke athletic director Kevin White to Sulaimon obtained by ESPN, White wrote that the school would "honor your scholarship through your graduation from Duke University." Sulaimon said he has a 3.07 grade point average, intends to take summer classes and is optimistic he will graduate in early August. Baishakhi Taylor, an assistant dean in Duke's Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, confirmed to ESPN that Sulaimon is currently enrolled in classes and in good academic standing.
He'll be able to play immediately due to the NCAA's graduate transfer rule, and Sulaimon said that he has been contacted by more than a dozen schools -- including Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado, George Washington, Houston, LSU, Maryland, Memphis, Oklahoma State, Seton Hall, SMU, Texas, Texas Southern and Texas A&M.
"I've thought about this a lot and talked about it with my family," he said. "I have aspirations to play at the next level in the NBA and I think my best chance of doing that is to first get my degree and to transfer to another school."
He currently lives with former teammates Amile Jefferson and Sean Kelly in an off-campus apartment and has access to the non-basketball facilities. Sulaimon has not seen Krzyzewski since their brief meeting on Jan. 30 in which Duke's head coach read the identical statement that went out to the media.
"Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program," Krzyzewski said in the statement. "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."
Sulaimon said he was stunned when Krzyzewski read the release, and was in a state of shock as he exited the office. Krzyzewski declined to speak to ESPN earlier in the week to discuss the specifics of Sulaimon's departure.
Sulaimon has texted Krzyzewski on three occasions: Easter, when the team made the Final Four and also when the team won the national title. He watched the championship game with about eight fellow Duke students in an apartment and said he was overcome with emotion while watching his former teammates celebrate after the victory.
"I was elated. Everyone was throwing popcorn and water in the air, and celebrating," he said. "I was celebrating too. I was so happy for them because I knew the type of work they put in to get to that point. At the same time, I'm not going to act like I'm not human, I cried that night. I didn't cry because I was sad or mad they won. I was 100 percent elated. Shortly after that, I had to remove myself from the crowd as they were tearing up the house. I called my dad in great tears, telling him, 'Dad, I really missed out on something, I could have been a part of something that was bigger than me, and something that could have lasted a lifetime.'"
Sulaimon told ESPN that life has returned to a sense of normalcy lately, and much of the reason is that he has not been ostracized from the Duke community. He regrets not speaking earlier and trying to clear his name.
"I was devastated. There really wasn't anything to say. There were things I had to change in my life," Sulaimon said. "I had to look in the mirror and analyze everything about my life. Encourage the good habits I had and change the bad habits I had. Just as I was coming to grips with that, I got hit with the student newspaper article. I watched in horror as my name was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I was shocked, I was confused, I was scared. But I've had enough time to get on my feet."