Former Duke basketball player Lance Thomas, a starter on the Blue Devils 2010 national championship team, is being sued by a New York jewelery firm over merchandise he purchased Dec. 21, 2009, according to the lawsuit obtained by the Associated Press.
That date is in the middle of his senior season, two days after Duke defeated Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Thomas bought five pieces of jewelry worth $97,800—$30,000 of which he paid up front. The balance of $67,800 remains unpaid.
“We have been made aware of a lawsuit filed by a jeweler against former men’s basketball player Lance Thomas, and we are currently looking into the matter,” said Jon Jackson, an associate athletic director for Duke who works with men’s basketball.
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski has no further comment at this time, Jackson told The Chronicle.
The jewelry company in question, Rafaello and Co., is located in midtown Manhattan.
“You guys are blowing the whole thing out of proportion,” said Gabriel Jacobs, a co-owner of the jewelry store. He deferred further comment to the jeweler’s attorney, Mike Bowers.
Bowers could not be reached for comment.
The purchase brings up concerns that Thomas received improper benefits, which could retroactively make him ineligible for part of that senior season.
According to NCAA bylaw article 16, “Receipt of a benefit by student-athletes or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students or their relatives or friends or to a particular segment of the student body... determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.”
Thomas’ agent, John Spencer, said he first became aware of the situation this week and directed further inquiries to Thomas’ lawyer on the case, Joe Crews, who could not be reached for comment. Both lawyers are based out of Texas because Thomas was playing for the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League at the time the lawsuit was filed in January.
“I think we were all caught off guard,” Spencer said.
During this summer, Thomas played on the USA Select Team, which the USA Olympic men’s basketball team, coached by Krzyzewski, played against in practice. Former Blue Devil Kyrie Irving was also on the USA Select Team.
Thomas most recently played for the New Orleans Hornets last season, starting 10 games and playing in 42 overall. In his senior year at Duke, he averaged 25.3 minutes per game, notching 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.
He has a non-guaranteed contract with the Hornets for $762,195 next season.