With numerous scholarship offers and qualifying test scores, most top-flight recruits pick a school before the NCAA's early signing period ends in November.
Not so, however, for Newark, N.J., senior Lance Thomas. Although most of his basketball-playing counterparts have already decided their college plans, Thomas remains one of two McDonald's All-Americans that have not yet reached a decision.
"It's two totally different choices that have made it hard," explained Dan Hurley, Thomas' high school coach at St. Benedict's Prep. "He's got an opportunity to go play at the best college basketball program at one of the best universities in the country, with all the tradition and history at Duke. Then he has Rutgers, the local school, which is hoping to establish a tradition, which he would be a part of."
Thomas could be the first McDonald's All-American to set foot on Rutgers' campus in recent memory. Combined with Quincy Douby, the Big East's leading scorer this season, Thomas could help the Scarlet Knights reach their first NCAA Tournament since 1991. More importantly, Thomas' commitment could help Rutgers convince other top players in the talent-rich state of New Jersey to play for their home school.
"I think it would make Rutgers more of an option for [St. Benedict's teammates] Corey Stokes, Samardo [Samuels]," Hurley said. "But it doesn't make it the best situation for them."
In order to pick Rutgers, however, Thomas would have to turn down one of the nation's best programs. Since Rutgers' last NCAA Tournament appearance, Duke has won three national titles, appeared in six Final Fours, and advanced to 12 Sweet 16s.
Moreover, at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, Thomas brings the versatility and athleticism that the Blue Devils lacked this season. That versatility was evidenced in a nine-point performance in the McDonald's All-American game in which he scored in the paint, with midrange jumpers, and from the foul line.
"I think after watching the NCAA Tournament you would probably say that Duke would like to improve upon its frontline athleticism," said scout.com analyst Dave Telep, who added that Thomas' commitment would give Duke yet another top-five recruiting class. "Lance brings a face-up power forward mentality to the game."
Thomas has yet to choose between Duke or Rutgers, but with his final All-Star game this weekend and the advent of the NCAA's Spring signing period, his final decision could be forthcoming.
"I'd say after this weekend.. I think he'll have enough time to watch teams play, get a real chance to evaluate the situation, get a sense if players are going to leave early for the NBA," Hurley said. "I think he's examined all of his options as efficiently as possible."
Participating with Thomas in last week's McDonald's All-American game were two Duke signees, Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer. Henderson, who won the dunk contest earlier in the week, led the East squad in scoring with 16 points, including acrobatic dunks, a deep three-pointer, and a number of smooth drives to the basket.
"Gerald Henderson is about as good of an athlete that Duke's had in its program since Dahntay Jones," Telep said. "I think he gives them an aggressive, attacking style of player offensively, and a diverse athletic player who can be a prime-time player defensively."
Scheyer, who drew Henderson as a defensive assignment much of the night, got a first-hand look at his future teammate. Scheyer finished with an efficient nine points on just four shots. In addition, the Northbrook, Ill. product gathered three rebounds and four assists playing at both guard positions throughout the night. A long Scheyer three-pointer helped to key a second-half West run that spurred them to victory.
"Overall floor game is the most impressive part of what Jon does-he's a guy that does not have to dominate the ball because he can pass the basketball," Telep said. "Big shot is what he is, he led his team to an unprecedented Illinois state championship as a junior. Jon Scheyer has about as many intangibles as a 6'6", 6'7" wing player can possibly have."
Despite their impressive performances, however, both Telep and Hurley cautioned against using the All-American game as bellwethers of future performance.
"A team like that doesn't really feature great winners who play great when there's real coaching and real winning and officiating," Hurley said.
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