The Duke men’s basketball team’s squeaky-clean clean image has come under question and its 2010 national title could be in danger, too.
All this based on former forward Lance Thomas, a New Jersey product from St. Benedict’s Prep who played for local AAU giant New Heights, being sued for the remaining balance of a nearly $100,000 jewelry tab he made from a prestigious New York company in Dec. 2009, according to the Associated Press. The case was filed in Dallas in January, but wasn’t made public.
Thomas, a starter on the 2010 Duke championship game, reportedly made a $30,000 down payment on the purchase between he and Rafaello and Co., a New York firm known to cater to professional athletes and which promotes itself as a “deluxe” jeweler.
The question lies in whether the purchase could violate NCAA rules and endanger the Blue Devils title. The AP reported there was an agreement between Thomas and Rafaello & Co. giving him credit to pay the remaining $67,800 within 15 days.
NCAA spokesperson Stacy Osburn told the AP they are speaking with Duke about the matter. NCAA rules prohibit athletes accepting benefits that aren’t available to all students. Osburn said a violation comes down to whether "the general student body, or someone similarly situated, would be able to get the same benefit or treatment."
The company’s lawyer, Mike Bowers, said Thomas purchased a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a pair of diamond studs, a diamond cross and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus' head. According to the purchase order, which was signed by Thomas, he agreed to pay back at least 25 percent of the price and the rest in 15 days.
Bowers said he didn’t know how Thomas made the initial payment.
Thomas appeared in 39 games for Duke in its championship season, including the team’s 61-59 victory over Butler in the national final. He went undrafted, but played with the New Orleans Hornets last season.
Those close to Thomas were surprised to hear of the matter. One Division I assistant coach said his recruitment was as straight forward as any player he’s dealt with. He didn’t have any hangers-on and most of it went through his immediate family.
Former Rutgers coach Fred Hill, whose school finished a close second to Duke for Thomas’ services, said he “was as high character a kid” he ever recruited.
Thomas' uncle John Montgomery deferred all questions to their attorney, though he did say: "It's a bogus claim."