More on Lance Thomas and the NCAA

That can’t happen. What Lance Thomas did in 2009 can’t happen — yet it did. What will the NCAA do about it?

Nothing. And you know it. It’s Corey Maggette all over again, a case that received some interest at first, then moved to the back burner, then fell off the stove entirely. Several years later, the NCAA determined Duke was innocent because its coach couldn’t have known what Piggie was up to when Maggette was in high school. No such luck for UCLA, Oklahoma State and Missouri, who were apparently supposed to know what Piggie was up to when their players (JaRon Rush of UCLA, Andre Williams of Oklahoma State, Kareem Rush of Missouri) were in high school.

This Lance Thomas case could follow a similar path. It’s getting interest now, but another scandal will happen soon enough, something shiny and sparkly, and like a bunch of dumb cats we’ll let Duke go and we’ll pounce on the new target. The Lance Thomas story will fade. That’s what the NCAA is counting on, anyway.

So is Duke.

Don’t let this one fade, people. It’s not so much that Duke was dastardly in 2010 — it’s the hypocrisy of the NCAA, which arbitrarily chooses the schools, and coaches, it wants to punish.

This one is all or nothing. Either Duke surrenders the 2010 national title … or nothing happens.

Don’t let this one fade, people.

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But while we wait, the burden of expectation will be heavy. If there is anything even approximating a logical explanation for why a senior in college walked into a boutique jeweler on 47th Street in midtown Manhattan that caters to celebrities and professional athletes, and paid $30,000 up front for a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a diamond cross, diamond earrings and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus’ head, we’d all love to hear it. We’d also love to hear why the store would extend him a 15-day line of credit to pay the remaining sum of nearly $68,000 – and where Thomas thought he was going to come up with that money to pay the rest of the bill.

Anything less than every expendable effort to make Thomas cooperate with the NCAA would be a tacit admission that Coach K – American basketball hero, Olympian, public icon, hailed for 30 years as an exemplar of virtue in a shady profession – would prefer to not know the truth.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. It would be a repudiation of what Duke bills itself to be and who Mike Krzyzewski says he is.

 

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Even the mainstream media is conceding that the NCAA will blatantly do nothing and that Duke and Coach K will get away with skirting the rules again.

The NCAA will allow Duke to ease on down the road with zero repercussions.  It’s what they do.  They did it for John Wooden.  They’ll do it again for Coach K.

Unclean Duke and Coach K

Two Major Scandals at Duke have been swept under the rug by the NCAA.

There is absolutely no difference between the Corey Maggette and Marcus Camby situations.  Both accepted money that made them ineligible to play College Ball.  Yet, the UMASS Final Four was vacated and the nothing was vacated at Duke.

Lance Thomas somehow came up with 30,000 USD as a College student and was given 67,000 USD in credit from a Jewelry Store that caters to Professional Athletes.

The NCAA has yet to make a peep.  My guess is that they’ll never investigate and the whole matter will be swept under the rug.

If they investigate, they would more than likely do nothing except sweep it under the rug.  No one is going to touch Coach K.

There is no way that a College Basketball player could have obtained that 67,000 Dollar loan without trading on future earnings.  That is against NCAA rules.

Still the NCAA will do nothing.

The press will do nothing but continue to sing the praises of Coach K while digging through John Calipari’s trash.

Duke’s second-place finish in the 1999 NCAA tournament is in doubt after former player Corey Maggette admitted he took cash payments from a summer league coach while in high school.

Maggette signed a sworn statement reversing earlier denials and admitting he took $2,000 from Myron Piggie, his summer league coach for a Kansas City-based AAU team, Duke said Tuesday.

Piggie pleaded guilty in May to a conspiracy charge after being accused of defrauding Duke and three other colleges. He faces 3-5 years in prison for paying Maggette and four other high school players on his team $35,500 from 1996-98.

Duke: We Were Unaware

Duke officials have said they were not aware of the payments, but the admission jeopardizes the Blue Devils’ program. In addition to possibly forfeiting the runner-up finish for using an ineligible player in the 1999 NCAA tournament, Duke also might have to return up to $226,815 in tournament revenue.

An NCAA spokeswoman said officials planned to review Maggette’s statement today.

Precedent for situations in which an ineligible athlete played in a postseason game and the university was unaware of the violations calls for the school to return 45 percent of its game revenue and give up any title it won, spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.

Duke requested the statement to resolve questions about Maggette’s eligibility after claims surfaced that he accepted the money from Piggie.

“Clearly, this is not what we wanted to hear, but we are pleased at least we have the facts now,” Duke spokesman Al Rossiter Jr. said.

NCAA to Investigate

The next step for the NCAA is to see if rules were violated, not if Duke tried to cover up the payments, he said.

“Clearly, we weren’t aware of it,” Rossiter said. “The issue is, was this in fact a violation of NCAA rules, and what do they do about it.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was told of the statement but had no comment. He has also denied knowledge of the payments.

Prosecutors Hope for Stronger Case

Maggette has been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors to testify about the payments. He already testified before a grand jury about Piggie.

The statement Duke received Tuesday was also sent to the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City. Prosecutors were hoping testimony from Maggette that he took money would allow them to pursue a stronger sentence against Piggie. A hearing in the case scheduled for Tuesday in Kansas City was postponed until today.

The federal indictment against Piggie claimed he paid the players in exchange for agreements that they would pay him once they received pro contracts and signed endorsement deals. It also said he used the players to secure money from a booster and Nike.

The other players were JaRon Rush of UCLA; his brother, Kareem, of Missouri; Korleone Young, who entered the NBA draft without playing in college; and Andre Williams of Oklahoma State.

Partly in response to issues raised by the investigation, the NCAA recently moved to eliminate its 24-day summer recruiting season, when coaches like Piggie parade their players before college coaches. The NCAA has approved trimming the summer recruiting season to 14 days, and then cutting it altogether.

There was no way that Duke could know about this.  Somehow, UMASS should have known that Camby was in secret talks with an agent.

What?

Lance Thomas:

A couple days before he purchased enough jewelry to launch his own Kay franchise, Lance Thomas played in the 10th basketball game of his senior season at Duke. He scored two points. This was not long after he’d scored five against Gardner-Webb, and one against UNC-Charlotte, as well as that glorious night when he took the collar in a loss to Wisconsin.

No, that collar was not encrusted with diamonds.

It seems a pretty far leap from these numbers, from the reality of Thomas’ relatively unspectacular skills to the assumption he was able to trade on his basketball reputation to walk away with nearly six figures in jewels after a down payment of less than 30 percent.

We learned of Thomas’ apparent profligacy Friday, as the result of a lawsuit filed months ago in Texas by New York jeweler Rafaello & Co. to recover the unpaid portion of his bill. According to the suit, Thomas took possession of the property after making a $30,000 down payment with the remainder due within 15 days — but never presented the rest of what was owed.

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On Dec. 21, 2009, Lance Thomas, then a senior starting forward at Duke, walked into Rafaello & Co., a boutique jeweler on 47th Street in midtown Manhattan that caters to celebrities and professional athletes.

Lance Thomas played on Duke’s 2010 national championship team. (AP)The 21-year-old Thomas bought a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a diamond cross, diamond earrings, and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus’ head. The grand total: $97,800. He paid $30,000. The bill of sale called for the rest within 15 days.

The payment never came, and when the Associated Press on Friday reported the details of his spending spree in a lawsuit seeking payment from Thomas, it sounded the opening bell to what could be a landmark case that affects all of college athletics.

Not only does the NCAA have a potential infractions case on its hands that could touch Mike Krzyzewski’s legendary program and cause the vacating of Duke’s 2010 NCAA title, it could serve as proof of whether the NCAA is truly willing to equally enforce its rules no matter the accused.

Or whether its current system is even still viable.

[Also: Nick Saban berates the media for all of their praise on the Crimson Tide]

At this point, nothing is certain. The NCAA and Duke say they are aware of the lawsuit. There is no guarantee there will even be an investigation.

Still, this is a lot of smoke.

The first eye-raising detail, of course, is how a college senior had $30,000 to spend on jewelry. That’s an exceptional amount of money for even well-off Americans. While Thomas’ scholarship might have freed up a college fund – or the North Jersey native could’ve earned the money – it’s still a lot.

You can speculate, since this is college basketball, about agents or runners or boosters, but there is no allegation of any of that. It’s premature to assume anything other than Lance Thomas or his family earned the money within NCAA rules.

In this case, it might not matter. The more germane issue is that the jeweler effectively provided Thomas with a $67,800 loan – the remaining balance on the purchase.

NCAA rules are clear that a student-athlete can’t receive any “extra benefit” based on his celebrity as a player or against future professional earnings.

Duke’s 2010 championship was Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth at the school. (AP)In this case, did Rafaello & Co. allow a 21-year-old to borrow $67,800 because that 21-year-old was a starter on the eventual national champions and thus considered a potential NBA player who would not only be likely to pay the balance but become a return customer? Is it standard practice to let young people make that substantial of a purchase with just 30 percent down?

If not, Duke could be in trouble.

That could mean Lance Thomas was ineligible by receiving that “extra benefit.” If he was ineligible, then every game Duke played from Dec. 21 on could be vacated. That would include the 2010 Final Four, which Duke won, delivering Coach K his fourth national title. And thus Duke would vacate the championship. (It would not be awarded to runner-up Butler, either. There would just be no champion.)

The punishment stage is far down the line. In general, however, the NCAA is adamant that it doesn’t want its student-athletes being paid – either in money or goods – by anyone. The NCAA’s reasoning for this particular rule is fairly simple: If players could trade on future earnings or celebrity, they’d get deals on everything. A car dealer would gladly offer a future lottery pick the most expensive ride on his lot for $1 down with payments beginning on draft day.

The NCAA fears schools would use such deals as a recruiting advantage. A booster who runs a car dealership could offer what is essentially a free car to every player on the team and never ask for the money later. A clothier could offer the same. Or an apartment manager. Or a hotel. Or whatever. Some schools would enjoy a competitive advantage.

It also protects players from getting into bad deals with people who aren’t forgiving – such as owing $67,800 to a jeweler when, like Lance Thomas, you spend most of your first two seasons in the NBA’s Developmental League (he finished the season with the New Orleans Hornets, starting 10 of 42 games).

Understand, this isn’t to get you to agree with the rule. I oppose the NCAA’s entire system. It needs players to be “amateurs” so it can continue to avoid paying taxes. Bureaucrats get fat on the billions of dollars in television contracts, players must sneak around to buy anything more than a sandwich.

No, this is more an explanation for why Duke, which as a NCAA member must follow the rules, should be concerned.

It’s unlikely Krzyzewski knew about this purchase. Smart money says Thomas hid the jewelry from any member of the Duke staff. Right now Coach K is probably furious and mortified. There is very little benefit to having a starting forward blanketing himself in jewelry and winding up embroiled in a lawsuit. The diamonds didn’t draw Thomas to Duke. They didn’t maintain his academic eligibility. They didn’t make him stronger or faster.

[Also: Thrash-for-cash not such a bad thing for a financially strapped Savannah State]

Knowledge matters not when it comes to sanctions, though. At least, that’s what the NCAA said when it vacated the University of Memphis’ entire 2007-08 season, including its runner-up finish in the NCAA tournament. That was over a sketchy standardized test score from guard Derrick Rose. The NCAA ruled that no one at Memphis knew about the test nor should they have known about the test. Memphis was still stripped of its Final Four. The term the NCAA used was “strict liability.”

Rose was ineligible and nothing else mattered.

So was Thomas ineligible? We’ll see. The best defense Duke appears to have might be the purchase order that specifies Thomas owed the balance within 15 days. If so, the jeweler obviously wasn’t waiting on him to earn NBA money because he would’ve still been in college at that time. Perhaps a $30,000 lump sum is enough of a good-faith gesture to trust the final two-thirds would soon arrive.

Or maybe there was a verbal agreement. An understanding that this was a Duke player. Boastful talk about the NBA. It’s important to ask: If the rest of the money was required in 15 days, why did it take more than two years to file suit?

That’s where the details of the case will matter, and right now, Duke might have an aggrieved party, Rafaello & Co., ready to talk to the NCAA.

“Speaking hypothetically,” the jeweler’s attorney, Mike Bowers, told the AP, “if he came in on a bicycle with tattered jeans, I doubt seriously he would have been sold jewelry, but I’m not drawing conclusions. The terms here are clear.”

So are the stakes.

Not just for Duke, but for the NCAA, which, for decades, has been criticized for supposedly enforcing its rules differently against different programs. Memphis was coached by John Calipari; a far easier target than Krzyzewski. Even if additional sanctions are highly unlikely because of the Duke coaches’ ignorance, the vacating of the title would hurt enough.

Cal and the Tigers wailed about “strict liability,” but few cared when the Final Four was stripped. It would be a different public-relations situation for Coach K.

The NCAA can’t ignore this because it’s Duke, but if it’s Duke that loses its national title over a jewelry-store loan, of all things, how can the NCAA continue to ignore that its entire busted rulebook?

So here comes an obscure lawsuit from a near-six-figure Manhattan shopping spree, right out of nowhere, right out of the past.

Here comes a case that could shake college sports to its foundation, banners dropping and questions rising, strict liability and situational enforcement as much in the crosshairs as Duke itself.

Click here for Tarheel Dirt

Classic Coach K Moment!

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On Jeopardy, the topic was something like “College Movies.” Each answer contained the name of a college.

The clue was something to the effect of  “Coach K should be very familiar with this movie.” The correct answer was “What is ‘The Dukes of Hazard?'”

However, the contestant responded with “What is Jackass?”

Awesome!  The Dude had to be a UNC or Kentucky Alum.

Wherever he went to school, he definitely learned well.

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USA Basketball takes Gold!

Team USA celebrates the Gold

Team USA celebrates the Gold

Team USA takes Basketball Gold in a 118 – 107 win over Spain.

I sat and watched the game live in Herat, Afghanistan.  I was in the Dining Facility with about 100 other American personnel.  There were also 5 to 10 Spaniards in the room with us.  I didn’t realize this  until Pau Gasol made a play.  I and the other Americans screamed “ARRRRRGH!!!”  And a few other expletives that I won’t type here.  The Spaniards applauded.  Every American in the room turned towards the applause with malice in our eyes.  lol  Being intent on the game, we had not noticed the Spaniards enter the room.   After the initial shock, a couple of us laughed and returned our attention to the game.

It’s always a special experience watching momentous games such as this in remote corners of the earth with fellow Americans.  Back in the States.  Everyone is American.  It’s all taken for granted.  This victory was made all the more special for me having watched it in Afghanistan.  I can’t explain it.  I just feel it more.

America reclaims it’s rightful place in Olympic Basketball.  International Basketball. It was a game decided in the last minutes. Team USA was never down.  But the Spaniards pulled to within 2 with a little less than 3 minutes remaining.  Team USA started to act a little frazzled.  Anger surfaced.  They recovered quickly and retook the lead.

Navarro, the Gasol brothers and Ricky Rubio, the 17 year old future pro, were pulling out all stops.  Fernandez seemed unstoppable at times.  Dunking on Dwight Howard and showing no signs of quit or surrender.  He eventually fouled out defending Kobe Bryant after sizzling Team USA for 22 points.  That shot of him dunking on Howard will be shown as an Olympic highlight for the nest 100 years.  It was that good.

It was a great game.  The Spanish Team acquitted itself nicely.  Played hard and played well.  They played to win.  But fell short.  Team USA held on.  Took the lead back to Ten and kept it there.  Dwayne Wade was the high scoring genius with 27 points.  Kobe Bryant and Lebron James were equally stars of the game for the USA.  Tayshaun Prince even got some valuable playing time in there over the more heralded Carlos Boozer.

AND IT WAS A GREAT GAME! Well Played and hard fought.

Team USA 2008 will be remembered as the team that brought the Gold back to America.  In Basketball, the Gold belongs in America.  It’s our game.  James Naismith invented it.  Our people perfected it.  It’s THE American game.  More so even than Baseball.  Jerry Colangelo deserves a good deal of credit for the redemption of USA Basketball.  He was the architect of this Team USA.  Coach K and the Boys deserve equal credit.  After all, it is a team sport.  They earned this Gold Medal over the course of last four years of work.  The USA finally played as a team in the Olympics.  And it paid off in Olympic GOLD!

Congratulations Team USA.  Well played.  The Basketball Gold is once more where it belongs.  In America.

They lived up to the legacy of these guys.

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The First Dream Team.

New York Times