|Thomas situation is one of the more vexing ones as of late in college hoops. (US Presswire)|
I remember the Lance Thomas recruitment well.
Thomas was, at one time, a highly regarded player who was pursued by all the big boys. A former high school teammate of Derrick Caracter's, he resided in the upper-middle class town of Scotch Plains, N.J., and ultimately chose Duke over hometown Rutgers. His recruitment was run by a guy named Monty.
Monty, whom I spoke to numerous times back in the day, was extremely involved. Maybe too much. He was Thomas' uncle -- but in actuality, he was considered Thomas' father -- and he knew all the recruiting guys in the business. He owned his own business, loved to talk and made certain his nephew didn't lack for much of anything.Throughout Thomas' four-year college career, I attended plenty of Duke games -- both home and on the road. And a fixture at those games was Monty. He and the rest of Thomas' family was at just about every game throughout the course of his college career.
No one quite knows where Thomas got the $30,000 to purchase the jewelry his senior season that now has both he and the Duke men's basketball program in the spotlight, but I just find it difficult to imagine it came via an agent. I've been told by multiple sources close to Thomas that it came from within the family, but no one is talking on the record.
Not Thomas, not Monty, not Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and not even those in charge at Rafaello & Co, the Manhattan jeweler who sold Thomas nearly $100,000 of goods (they issued him a loan of nearly $70,000 that he hasn't paid yet). It's highly unlikely they'll be any comments until the legal situation between the jewelry store and Thomas is resolved.
Thomas' uncle declined to comment to CBSSports.com. Thomas hasn't returned calls seeking comment, either. In order to avoid people questioning how Thomas came into a significant sum as a college student and blew it on bling, the family needs to talk at some point soon.
Thomas was tabbed as an overseas guy throughout most of his Duke career. He and his uncle always figured he'd ultimately become a small forward, but he wound up spending more time in the paint than on the wing in college. There was no mention of him on the mock draft sites and agents were hardly beating down his door. He went undrafted after averaging 4.8 points per game as a senior. Those aren't exactly numbers that agents and runners want to see when they drop cash and invest in a kid's future. Could a low-level agent, hoping to break into the business, have rolled the dice on Thomas -- a kid with Duke connections? Sure, but it just doesn't seem likely.
Thomas was coming off the bench for a while as a senior. There was the two-point performance against Gonzaga in December, just prior to the date he reportedly purchased the black diamond necklace, the diamond-encrusted watch, the diamond cross, diamond earrings and a black diamond pendant. He had the goose-egg against Wisconsin in early-December and also finished with just one point in a game against Charlotte early in the year. This is the same guy whose best season statistically came his junior campaign when he put up 5.3 points per contest.
It's not just Thomas who needs to have his head examined for doling out at least $30K for jewelry while still in college. How about the jewelers, who gave a line of credit to a kid that's a fringe NBA player?
Then again, maybe the jewelers knew more than the rest of us. Thomas began his career in the D-League, but did start 10 games and get into 42 overall last season with the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA.
The issue here that's at stake -- not just for Thomas, but for Duke -- is whether Thomas received a benefit via the $67,800 loan that wasn't available to the ordinary student? The NCAA will likely investigate this and if they find that to be the case, Duke could have its national title stripped.