Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lance Thomas lawsuit raises questions with Duke basketball

Former Duke forward Lance Thomas is being sued for the remaining balance of a nearly $100,000 jewelry bill from 2009 — bringing into the mix potential NCAA violations for the Blue Devils basketball program.

The pristine image of Duke basketball program has now come into question and its 2010 national title could be be in jeopardy, as well.

Thomas — a former New Jersey basketball standout at powerhouse St. Benedict's Prep — is being sued for the remaining balance of a $97,800 jewelery tab from a well-known New York company in Dec. 2009, according to reports.  The case was filed in Dallas in January, but wasn't made public.

The company, Rafaello and Co., is popular for its exquisite bling and is known to cater to professional athletes and celebrities.  The Manhattan Diamond District company promotes itself as a "deluxe" jeweler.

Thomas reportedly made a $30,000 down payment for a black diamond necklace, a pair of diamond studs, a diamond-encrusted watch, a diamond cross, and a black diamond pendant in the shape of jesus' head.  According to the purchase order, the ballplayer agreed to pay back at least 25 percent of the price and the rest in 15 days.

The problem for Duke is whether the purchase violates NCAA rules — an infraction that could endanger the Blue Devils 2010 title.  The Associated Press reported that there was an agreement between Thomas and the jeweler giving him credit to pay back the balance but didn't specify where the money would come from.

NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said they are speaking with Duke about the situation.

NCAA rules prohibit college athletes accepting benefits that are not available to all students.  Osburn said a violation basically 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 attorney, Mike Bowers,  said the company does not know how Thomas made the initial payment and claims there is no evidence showing anyone other than Thomas was involved in the transaction.

Thomas appeared in 39 games for Duke during its 2009-2010 championship season — including the Blue Devils' 61-59 victory over Butler for the national title.

The undrafted Thomas played with the New Orleans Hornets last season and made $305,551.

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