Former Duke and current New Orleans Hornets player Lance Thomas said Monday he does not think he violated NCAA rules when he purchased nearly $100,000 in diamond jewelry during his college career.
Thomas also indicated a willingness to speak with the NCAA about the purchase, which spawned a lawsuit by a New York jeweler and an inquiry by Duke and the NCAA of whether Thomas violated rules pertaining to improper benefits for college athletes.
”I’m still working on that, but I’ll eventually speak to them,” Thomas said.
Thomas has settled the lawsuit which claimed he owed nearly $68,000 to Rafaello & Co. for a purchase made during Duke’s 2009-10 national championship season. However, he said some legal details still must be worked out, after which he expects to be more willing to meet with the NCAA and comment publicly in more detail about the matter.
”I do feel bad that was something that was just lingering around the university,” Thomas said. ”But everything’s going to get taken care of the right way and I hope the coaching staff and the whole university knows that those were the best four years of my life.”
”Everything will come out,” he added. ”But it will come out on the better end, hopefully.”
The lawsuit, filed in January in Austin, Texas, said Thomas owed $67,800 for five pieces of jewelry he purchased at a cost of $97,800. The invoice, dated Dec. 21, 2009, indicates that Thomas made a $30,000 down payment and agreed to pay the balance in 15 days.
Thomas started 39 games at forward for Duke in 2009-2010, his senior season, including the 61-59 victory over Butler in the NCAA championship game.
The NCAA has declined to comment on the settlement and what it might mean in terms of investigating the matter. NCAA rules require student-athletes and personnel at member schools to cooperate with the organization’s inquiries, but there’s nothing to compel people who aren’t affiliated with those schools to do so.
Thomas wasn’t drafted by an NBA team when he left Duke. Thomas was playing last season for the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League when the suit was filed. He was later called up to New Orleans, for whom he appeared in 42 games, averaging 4 points and 3 rebounds in about 15 minutes per game last season.
Rafaello & Co., which also does business as A+A Diamonds Ltd., promotes itself as a jeweler that caters to professional athletes and other celebrities. On its website, the jeweler says its customers include actor Jamie Foxx, singer Alicia Keys and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.
The firm filed a similar lawsuit against Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant last year, asserting that he owed $240,000 for jewelry he purchased between January and May 2010. The purchases occurred after Bryant had left Oklahoma State and was waiting for the NFL draft.