DeCock: A chance for Krzyzewski to address Lance Thomas situation

ldecock@newsobserver.comOctober 12, 2012 

Friday afternoon, for the first time since news surfaced of Lance Thomas’ six-figure jewelry purchase in the middle of Duke’s 2010 national-championship season, Mike Krzyzewski will meet with the media.

Ostensibly, this is a time to discuss the upcoming season. Unavoidably, it’s Krzyzewski’s first opportunity to publicly address the Thomas situation and the potential NCAA fallout.

He’s well within his rights to declare that Duke is a private school and will handle the matter privately, or that it’s an NCAA matter and he won’t discuss it. Those are acceptable responses, but there’s collateral damage associated with either tack.

There’s too much on the line here, too much at stake: Not merely a national championship, but the reputation and legacy of the winningest coach in college basketball history. The Thomas affair has the potential to tarnish some or all of that, although far too little is known about it to draw any real conclusions now.

It’s not about “coming clean,” because Krzyzewski may honestly know very little if anything about what happened. (If that’s the case, he can say that.) It’s really an opportunity he should embrace, to clear the air to the extent that he can. He doesn’t have to say much, as long as it’s something.

Yes: “This is a serious/frivolous/complicated/inconsequential situation.” No: “I’m not going to get into that.”

Duke officials have said the school is looking into the matter and cooperating with the NCAA, but not much else. Krzyzewski, who has never shied from speaking his mind when he feels something needs to be said, is synonymous with Duke basketball. What he says matters.

This all came to light when a New York jeweler filed a lawsuit against Thomas in January claiming he bought $97,800 worth of jewelry during his senior season at Duke, putting down $30,000 and failing to pay the rest 15 days later as agreed.

The lawsuit was settled in September, a few days after it became public, but not without raising questions about whether several aspects of the jewelry purchase ran afoul of NCAA regulations – specifically, did the money for the down payment or the loan constitute impermissible benefits?

The jeweler has declined to speak with the NCAA, but Thomas said last month at New Orleans Hornets training camp that he would “eventually” talk to the NCAA and that he didn’t think he broke any rules with the purchase.

There are some nuances to the NCAA rules here. Even if Thomas’ purchase did turn out to be a violation, it might not be held against Duke if the NCAA rules there was no way Duke could have known, which was the case for Duke with the transgressions associated with Corey Maggette. But a few years later, the NCAA held Memphis accountable for Derrick Rose’s irregular SAT score, which forced the Tigers to vacate a Final Four appearance.

As always with the NCAA, its actions and decisions are harder to forecast than an earthquake, and can do almost as much damage to a program.

The longer this story lingers, the more attention will be paid to it. This is Krzyzewski’s best chance to get ahead of this story, to set the record as straight as he can, and move on to basketball season.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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