2011-2012 ACC Preview: #4 Florida State

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 4th-place finishers, the Florida State Seminoles.

This picture of Florida State's team last season should look awfully similar to this year's squad. Why? Because they're all back. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 9-5

Key Wins:
November 24- Florida State 73, UMass 53
December 11- Florida State 75, UNC-Greensboro 60

Tough Losses:
November 25- Harvard 46, Florida State 41
November 26- Connecticut 78, Florida State 76 (OT)
December 30- Princeton 75, Florida State 73 (3OT)

Starting Lineup:[table id=25 /]Last Year Against Duke:
January 12, 2011 in Tallahassee- Florida State 66, Duke 61

This Year Against Duke:
January 21, 2012 at Duke
February 23, 2012 in Tallahassee

The Good: This is a big and physical team, and they will punish you on the glass and wreak havoc on opposing offenses. The Seminoles are tops in the ACC in defensive field goal percentage, as opponents are shooting just 35.4% from the floor against them. Florida State also allows only 26.7% shooting from beyond the arc. They also lead the ACC in both blocked shots and steals. Senior Bernard James ranks third in the conference averaging 2.5 blocks per game. On the glass, the Seminoles pull down 40.2 rebounds per game, good for 12th in the nation.

The Bad: Florida State struggles to hit from deep, shooting just 31.6% from beyond the arc this season. In fact, they don’t have a single player shooting more than 35.6% on their roster. This shooting weakness allows opposing defenses to shift its attention to Florida State’s major strength, its big front line. Florida State’s strength of non-conference schedule is also a bit unsettling. Although it has played several ranked teams in close contests, it is yet to defeat a quality opponent.

The Crazie: This is also easily the most experienced team in the ACC, as Florida State has six seniors and five juniors on its roster. In closely-contested conference games, experience can be a deciding factor. Florida State has done a very nice job replacing the production of the two key contributors it lost from last year’s team. Though Chris Singleton decided to leave school a year early to be selected by the Washington Wizards in the 1st round of the NBA draft and Derwin Kitchen graduated, their front line has rotated new starters in seamlessly to pick up their lost production. The Seminoles not only have the experience of enduring the difficulties of an ACC schedule but also the intensity of NCAA Tournament basketball. The 11 players that Florida State returned from last year’s team remember what it took for a successful postseason run, as the Seminoles went to the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual Final Four team VCU.

Player We Love To Hate: Bernard James. James is one of the top rebounders in the ACC, pulling down 8.9 boards per game, and has a post game that continues to improve. James is extremely difficult to match up with and could pose issues for the Blue Devils, who have struggled with interior defense at times throughout the season. He is the type of player that can wear down a defense in the paint and makes opponents work hard on both ends of the floor.

The Bottom Line: This is a team that can compete with anyone in the ACC. They won’t finish in the top couple of spots, but they will give the elite ACC teams tough games, especially when they play in Tallahassee. Despite no real non-conference resume to speak of, this team shouldn’t have much trouble making the NCAA Tournament come March. This is by no means the most talented team Duke will see this year, but the way it rebounds and defends, Florida State can pose a difficult matchup for any team. If they can continue to could shut teams down come tournament time and their offense gets hot the Seminoles could win a game or two.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #5 Virginia Tech

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 5th-place finishers, the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Hokie Nation should have something to cheer about this season (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 11-3

Key Wins:
November 25- Virginia Tech 59, Oklahoma State 57

Tough losses:
November 23- Syracuse 69, Virginia Tech 58
November 30- Minnesota 58, Virginia Tech 55
December 4- Kansas State 69, Virginia Tech 61

Starting Lineup:[table id=24 /]Last Year Against Duke:
February 26, 2011 in Blacksburg- Virginia Tech 64, Duke 60
March 12, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 77, Virginia Tech 63

This Year Against Duke:
February 2, 2012 in Blacksburg
February 25, 2012 at Duke

The Good: This is one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, allowing just 59.3 points per game. They pose matchup problems with their size, especially in the backcourt. The Hokies’ entire starting lineup is between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8. Their length helps them to defend against teams that shoot from deep- opponents are shooting a staggering 22.8% from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech this season. This team has also endured a few tests in its non-conference schedule, playing competitively against top-ranked Syracuse while suffering close losses to power-conference teams Minnesota and Kansas State. They’ve handled the rest of their lesser competition quite easily, winning each game by an average of 12.2 points per game this year.

The Bad: Although their starters have size in the backcourt, this is not a very big team and could get hurt inside. The presence of a player who isn’t even on the Hokies roster could hurt them the most. 6-foot-9 power forward Allan Chaney had transfered from Florida and was slated to start this season for Virginia Tech, but was not cleared to play by team doctors due to a heart condition. Virginia Tech only has one player in its normal rotation larger than 6-foot-8 in 6-foot-9 sophomore Cadarian Raines, and Raines only averages 15.2 minutes per game. This could pose a problem against some of the larger teams in the ACC, who will look to dominate them inside, especially because the Hokies play tight perimeter defense.

The Crazie: This is a team built to play with a lead, not only thanks to their ability to play tight defense and lock down the perimeter, but due to their ability to convert from the line. Virginia Tech is shooting an ACC-best 74.0% from the line this season, so it will be difficult to claw your way back into a game late if your team is forced to foul. Their starting five is shooting 76.4% from the charity stripe on the year, or two Mason Plumlees, depending on which way you think of it.

Player We Love To Hate: Look out for Jarell Eddie this year, this guy is a walking matchup problem. He has the length at 6-foot-7 to play inside and crash the boards, averaging 5.0 rebounds for game, good for second on the team. But that will be the least of your worries- hope you keep this guy inside because he will shoot the lights out. When he steps outside, Eddie is shooting a 52.6% clip from beyond the arc on the year. He is also shooting a lights-out 90% from the line, so he is definitely not the person to foul with the game on the line. His athleticism alone makes this guy one dangerous player.

The Bottom Line: Virginia Tech will be fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament this year, so conference play is a crucial stage. Although this is a team with only a few experienced players, my guess is that they will be one of the last few teams to get a bid this year. People are talking about it being a down year in the ACC, but I don’t think five teams is too many. They will play the ACC tough this year, and playing North Carolina only once while playing Boston College and Clemson twice can’t hurt either. Plus, playing in Blacksburg in front of Hokie Nation is one of the ACC’s toughest road tests.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #6 North Carolina State

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 6th-place finishers, the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

After a string of disappointing seasons, the Wolfpack look to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 11-4

Key Wins:
November 16- NC State 60, Princeton 58
November 21- NC State 77, Texas 74

Tough Losses:
November 19- Vanderbilt 86, NC State 79
December 4- Stanford 76, NC State 72

Starting Lineup:[table id=23 /]Last Year Against Duke:
January 19, 2011 in Raleigh- Duke 92, NC State 78
February 5, 2011 at Duke- Duke 76, NC State 52

This Year Against Duke:
February 16, 2012 at Duke

The Good: This is one of the more experienced teams in the ACC this year, and has played very competitively against some tough non-conference competition. The Wolfpack’s only four losses this year have come at the hands of Vanderbilt, Indiana, Stanford, and top-ranked Syracuse, all four of whom will be tournament teams come March. NC State utilizes a very balanced scoring attack with five players averaging double figures on the season. Their size is also beneficial, outrebounding opponents by 6.2 rebounds per game. With all five of their starters 6-foot-5 or greater, this is a team that will definitely cause matchup problems.

The Bad: Despite the fact that the Wolfpack rank near the top of the ACC in rebounding and blocks, they still find a way to struggle on the defensive end of the floor. NC State allows an ACC-worst 71.2 points per game and have held opponents under 60 points on only two occasions this year. Against high-powered offenses like Duke and North Carolina, struggles on the defensive end will simply not cut it.

The Crazie: NC State has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year- some games they looked like an NCAA Tournament team and others they looked like an ACC bottom-feeder. They’ve played very competitive games against strong team and have not lost to any bad teams, but they’ve come quite close, most notably two-point victories over Princeton and St. Bonaventure and a five-point win over North Carolina Central. This will make for a very interesting season for the Wolfpack, who could very easily upset an elite ACC team or lose to one of the worst teams in the conference on any given night.

Player We Love To Hate: Lorenzo Brown. This man is a pest all over the floor. He has averaged 11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 2.3 steals per game this season and can hurt you in a multitude of ways. He does not need to score to give opponents fits, and his length at 6-foot-5 makes him extremely difficult to defend for a point guard. He will more than likely be Austin Rivers’ assignment when the Wolfpack come to Cameron in February.

The Bottom Line: This is a team with a lot of potential, and could be this season’s ACC surprise. However, until it can start playing with more consistency, this team will likely be on the outside looking in come tournament time. They will more than likely be on the fringe come March, but with a few upsets during conference play and a trip to the ACC Tournament Semifinals, this team might build the resumè to be dancing come March as a fifth or even sixth representative from the ACC.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

The Evolution of Austin Rivers

The Duke basketball program is used to bringing in highly touted freshmen. In any given year, odds are that Duke has landed at least one of the top five high school players in the nation. The Blue Devils have been represented in every single McDonald’s High School All-American game since 1993. Last season, super-freshman Kyrie Irving needed only 11 games to take the NCAA by storm and earn the #1 overall pick in the draft. But although he’s stepping directly into the shadows of Irving, I think we all can agree that there hasn’t been more hype for a Duke freshman than for Austin Rivers.

Rivers’ story is already well known. The Winter Park, Fl. native is the son of former NBA guard and current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Doc spent the first nine of his fourteen NBA seasons as a player with the Atlanta Hawks (he also played for Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and San Antonio Spurs.) Living up to a father who played in the NBA is no easy task (and not an uncommon one in the Duke program, just ask Seth Curry, Gerald Henderson or Chris Collins). But being the son of a former NBA player and one of the top coaching minds in basketball means much more than that. Not only do you have to be physically gifted, you’re expected to have excellent basketball instincts.

Rivers was on display from the beginning in the Friendship Games (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Every fall at Duke is special thanks to the arrival of 1700 new Cameron Crazies, but more importantly it means the arrival of a handful of new campus “gods”: the freshman basketball players. As one of the most heavily hyped freshmen in the country, I can assure you that it didn’t take very long for Rivers to attain celebrity status on campus. Not only had we heard our favorite college basketball analysts raving about this kid and seen endless highlight reels of him on YouTube (my personal favorite being this one of him crossing up 2010 NBA #1 overall pick John Wall), but we were able to catch a glimpse of him playing with the rest of his Blue Devil teammates at the Friendship Games in China and the UAE over the summer. When the season finally started, however, the “Austin Rivers legend” and the 18 year-0ld player were not exactly identical.

Our first glimpse of Rivers at Cameron was at Duke’s annual Countdown to Craziness. Though the general excitement surrounding the event was the kick-off to this team’s run toward a fifth national championship, there wasn’t a soul on campus that didn’t walk into Cameron that day wondering what this kid could really do. Austin was well received by the Duke crowd- as the first player introduced, he received the loudest ovation of the entire evening. Rivers came out on fire, knocking down shots from all over the floor as his White team jumped out to a double-digit lead by halftime. In the second half, the wheels started to fall off a bit. Rivers’ shots were not falling and he became visibly frustrated, affecting his play on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, the Blue team led by veterans Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins came storming back and eventually took home the victory.

Another month of hard work and fine tuning went by, and the Blue Devils were finally ready to start their 2011 season. Even in just 11 games this year, you can examine Rivers’ season in three distinct phases. Here’s a look at Rivers’ performances to date, game by game.

[table id=21 /]

Rivers' worst performance of the season was against Michigan State (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

As you can plainly see, the first few games of the year for Austin Rivers didn’t go so hot. In fact, he looked downright out of sync with the rest of the Duke team. Part of Rivers’ struggles in the opening games of the season resulted from increased pressure for him to step into his team’s vacant role of point guard. When Austin was bringing up the ball more often, he felt more pressure to create and facilitate the offense. This combined with a slightly naïve sense of invincibility left over from his high school playing days resulted in a lot of forced shots and turnovers, and the Duke offense struggled.

Rivers earned his chances at the rim when he was the centerpiece of the offense (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Following a dreadful performance at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State, Rivers finally started to slow down and trust in his teammates. In turn, he allowed other players to set him up for open looks and made sure not to waste his opportunities. The point guard responsibilities shifting toward Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton only made matters easier for Rivers, who was able to roam the perimeter in search of open threes when he was off the ball and split double teams to drive down the lane when he was on the ball. However, Rivers’ transformation into the offensive force that he now is was not complete. There were still moments where he would revert back to his old bad habits and force a bad shot or turn the ball over. This second phase of his season was still extremely important, as Duke was able to get quality wins over difficult opponents like Michigan and Kansas. Duke’s drubbing at Ohio State marked the last game of this phase. Rivers put forth one of his better offensive outputs of the season, netting a career-high 22 points while pulling off some dazzling drives.

A more patient Austin Rivers has blended into the Duke offense splendidly (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The third phase of Austin’s season was an intriguing one. Rivers stepped back from his role as the team’s primary scorer and once again the Blue Devils scored by committee. However, this is when he began to play his best basketball of the year. It seemed as though the less Rivers had to do, the more he could do. In Duke’s past three games, Rivers hasn’t had to take as many shots, but has converted as a higher percentage and has not stuck out as an individual entity wearing a Duke jersey, but rather a contributing member of Duke’s fluid offensive set. This is a role he has thrived in- his scoring has not dropped whatsoever and he is contributing more to the team. I’ve watched every single Duke basketball game this year and wrote about most of them, and I’ll still contend that the Austin Rivers moment that got me the most excited had nothing to do with a steal, dunk, or 3-pointer, but rather when I got home from the Colorado State game on December 7, checked a box score and realized he scored a beautifully quiet and efficient 17 points, and then rewatched the game and witnessed how incredibly he flowed within the offense for the first time all year.

Our mission at Crazie-Talk is to bring you all aspects of Duke basketball: the good, the bad, and the Crazie. Ironically, that is exactly the way to sum up Austin Rivers’ young freshman season–the first part was bad, in the second part he became the focus of the offense and went a bit Crazie (not necessarily in a good way), and the third part has been very, very good. Let’s take a look at Austin’s averages from his three phases of this season, “The Bad” being the year’s first three games, “The Crazie” being from Davidson to Ohio State, and “The Good” being Duke’s past three games.
[table id=22 /]

So which of these would you rather have? Obviously we’re getting rid of Austin at the beginning of the year where he wasn’t playing well overall, but I’d rather have the Rivers that plays fewer minutes and shoots less, while making more, and doesn’t disrupt the flow of the offense. It sounds almost like a no-brainer.

Just like last season, the Blue Devils enter the ACC regular season headlined by a stud freshman as their leading scorer. Unlike last season, this year’s stud freshman is not sidelined by an injury that will cost him 20 or so games. Just like any first-year player, the ACC  season will be another transition for Austin Rivers, so don’t go jumping off the bandwagon if he has a tough game or two, especially as he gets accustomed to the intensity of ACC road tests. But over the course of this young season, we have learned a lot about who Austin Rivers really is–he is developing, he is learning quickly. He has become an integral member of this offense and he is earning the hype. At this point in his freshman year, Rivers is nowhere near the “finished product” that Kyrie Irving was in December, but he is improving at a scary pace. And we get to watch. We see these glimpses of greatness that a year ago were only reserved for our computer screens on YouTube, as game by game the greatness begins to take over.

It will be something special to witness.

'Tis The Season To Be Crazie: Week 1 In Review

Happy holidays from the entire crew here at Crazie-Talk. And Crazy Towel Guy. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Been busy traveling, doing holiday shopping, or entertaining guests (regardless of if you actually want them there) over the past week? Don’t worry, my fellow Crazies, in case you’ve been a bit out of the loop and haven’t seen our Tweets or posts on Facebook, here’s everything we’ve been working on in the past week all in one convenient place.

With the NBA lockout ending and the season finally kicking off, we decided to take a look at what our former Dukies are up to in the pros. A couple of weeks ago we took a look at former Blue Devils’ movement in free agnecy, but last week we decide to take a look at four former Duke players, three playing their first year of pro basketball and one playing his first year in the NBA. Check out how these guys will be situated in their new homes in, The Rookies.

Lance Thomas was a bit of an exception to our post on Duke’s rookies, as this is his first year playing in the NBA, but not his first playing professional basketball. On Christmas Eve, Lance was informed that he made the roster of the New Orleans Hornets, after a long and hard-fought struggle that saw him spending an entire year in the D-League, battling health issues, and surviving a grueling training camp. Check out Thomas’s incredible story of perseverance in The Promised Land: Lance Thomas Makes The Cut.

Finally, this holiday season we’ve begun to preview one of the most exciting parts of the year, teams entering their conference schedule. We’ve gone around the ACC to examine each time and predict this year’s conference standings from the bottom up. We’ve made it halfway through and have projected the six worst teams in the conference. Be sure to check back throughout the week as we continue to count down toward number one!
Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:
#12 Boston College
#11 Wake Forest
#10 Clemson
#9 Miami
#8 Georgia Tech
#7 Maryland

More exciting content on the way as the holiday season rolls on, including a feature tomorrow on Austin Rivers. Stay Crazie, my friends.

2011-2012 ACC Preview: #7 Maryland

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected 7th-place finishers, the Maryland Terrapins.

Never fear, the Turtle has been much scarier in years past (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

2011-2012 Record: 10-3

Key Wins:
November 18- Maryland 78, Colorado 71
December 4- Maryland 78, Notre Dame 71

Tough Losses:
November 20- Iona 89, Maryland 63
November 29- Illinois 71, Maryland 62

Starting Lineup:[table id=20 /]Last Year Against Duke:
January 9, 2011 at Duke- Duke 71, Maryland 64
February 2, 2011 in College Park- Duke 80, Maryland 62
March 11, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 87, Maryland 71

This Year Against Duke:
January 25, 2012 in College Park
February 11, 2012 at Duke

The Good: The Terps boast the leading scorer in the ACC in sophomore Terrell Stoglin, who has averaged 21.5 points per game so far this season. Stoglin has been held under 15 points in just one game this season, and notched 31 and 32 points in crucial victories over Notre Dame and Colorado, respectively. Especially during an intensely competitive conference schedule, it is possible to beat a superior team when you have a player that can score at will.

The Bad: This is a Maryland team that struggles on the defensive end of the floor, and they don’t have nearly enough offensive firepower to offset that. The Terps are one of just two teams in the ACC who have been outscored thus far, the other being the lowly Boston College, who we predicted to finish dead last in the conference this year. To make matters worse, if Maryland can actually take a lead late in the game, they might have trouble keeping it, as they’ve struggled mightily from the line this year. They rank dead last in the ACC this season, shooting just 63.6% from the charity stripe.

The Crazie: The greatest loss Maryland suffered from last year’s team was not a graduated player, but their head coach. The Terrapins entered this season with a new coach for the first time in 22 years following the departure of legendary head coach Gary Williams. New head coach Mark Turgeon entered the fold at Maryland after four straight NCAA tournament bids at Texas A&M, and although he is amply qualified, this is not a program that is used to leadership changes, to say the least. The most interesting thing about this Maryland team does not concern the coaching change, however, but rather how untested this team is. Although it faced a few quality opponents in its non-conference schedule, the Terrapins did not play a single game on the road. They did play four neutral site games, but one of the keys to a winning team in conference play is the ability to play in a hostile environment, which Maryland has not yet had to do this year. This could pose a problem down the road for a team that is already quite inexperienced to begin with.

Player We Love To Hate: Terrell Stoglin is the type of player that Duke hates to face. He is overwhelmingly his team’s primary offensive option, having taken twice as many shots as any other player on Maryland’s team. He is not afraid to take the ball to the rack and gets to the line consistently, but is also not afraid to step out and hit from deep. He has a scorer’s mentality and the capability to drop points on a team in bunches. With a team like Maryland, they’ll only pose a significant threat to upset you if Stoglin takes over the game.

The Bottom Line: This team has been difficult to read because it is widely inexperienced and generally untested, but despite these drawbacks it will benefit by being more talented than a few teams in a depleted ACC this season. It has the ability to beat bad teams and give better teams a run for their money if Stoglin is connecting and their defense learns how to shut somebody down. This team should finish somewhere toward the middle of the pack this year. But unless they overachieve significantly in conference play or make a deep ACC Tournament run they likely will not see an NCAA Tournament bid in large part due to a weak non-conference schedule.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina

The Promised Land: Lance Thomas Makes The Cut

In this crazy messed up world we live in, we can only be sure of one thing—we can find out anything we need to know about anyone from their Twitter bio. So how does Lance Thomas describe himself on Twitter? Let’s take a look:

Lance Thomas aka @slangmagic: The most driven person you will ever meet. Pro ball player. Music junkie. Doberman Pinscher lover.

From watching Lance bang down on the blocks for four years in Cameron, none of us can question his drive, and who are we to say he doesn’t love music and who doesn’t love hanging with a Doberman? But today Lance Thomas made the last piece of that 140-character Twitter puzzle a reality—he is a pro ball player, and not just any pro ball player. He is on an NBA roster.

This picture says 1,000 words about Lance Thomas's drive and determination (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

On the eve of this year’s strike-shortened NBA season, Lance Thomas received the greatest Christmas gift he ever could have asked for when he found out he had made the New Orleans Hornets. His journey to the NBA has been unconventional to say the least, but it perfectly personifies all that made Thomas a great member of the Duke Blue Devils: his grit, his determination, and his intensity. Let’s take a look at how he got here.

Thomas starred at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey throughout high school, leading his team to a state championship his senior season while earning McDonald’s All-American honors. He averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds that year en route to winning his second state title in his time at St. Benedict’s. Thomas committed to Duke in the spring of his senior season, waiting much longer than most other top recruits to sign with a team. He chose to attend Duke instead of staying local and playing college basketball at Rutgers.

Lance Thomas practices the same way he plays- hard. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Lance made an impact at Duke from the time he first stepped on the floor. Although it normally takes big men more time to adjust to the pace of the college game, Thomas impressed Coach K immensely during preseason workouts before his freshman year. His hard work paid off as Thomas was named a starter for the second game he ever played wearing a Duke uniform. He would go on to start games in all four seasons of his Duke career, including 39 of the 40 games in Duke’s 2009-2010 national title run during his senior season.

He was not a low post force during his time at Duke, that is no secret. In fact he never averaged more than 5.3 points per game during his time there, but Lance Thomas was the master of intangibles. While his teammates were scoring points, he was making sure he did the little things—grab rebounds, body up an opponent’s best big man, block shots, hustle, dive on the floor after loose balls and take charges. Those are the plays that would inevitably define Thomas’s career at Duke; that is the reason why when he calls himself “the most driven person you will ever meet,” we know he isn’t lying.

Becoming a national championship was a great accomplishment for Lance, but not where he envisioned the road ending (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Thomas strove to be an NBA basketball player. Playing for Duke is a great first step to take toward reaching that goal, but despite the quickly rising draft prospects of Thomas along with fellow seniors Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek during their 2010 championship run, none of them were drafted that season. When the NBA doesn’t come calling for some Blue Devils, they’re almost certain to receive offers to play in some of the top leagues in Europe. Lance could have jumped the pond like many of his teammates (Kyle Singler and Martynas Pocius in Spain, Jon Scheyer in Israel, DeMarcus Nelson and Daniel Ewing in Ukraine, or David McClure in Lithuania). But Lance Thomas didn’t want to play in Europe, he wanted to play in the NBA. So instead of taking a much larger contract to play for a European team, he gave the league a shot and tried to make a roster as an undrafted free agent. He played that summer in the Orlando league with the Nets, but did not make the preseason roster. Instead of taking his talents overseas to Europe, Thomas kept his dream alive when he was drafted by in the 2nd round the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League (aka the D-League).

Continuing to improve his offensive game in his only full season with the Toros, Lance Thomas averaged 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 46 games. This season did not pass without any additional adversity, however, as Thomas suffered a seizure on the court during a game against the Idaho Stampede on March 26, 2011, ending his season four games early. Luckily for Lance, he was able to make a full recovery and continue to improve his game. Lance’s stellar play in the D-League earned him a spot on the United States’ team for the 2011 Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Thomas was a key contributor to the US team that eventually earned a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games, averaging 8.2 points and leading the team with 7.6 rebounds over the tournament’s five games. Thomas also shot 90% from the free-throw line and was the team’s leading scorer in its 94-92 victory over the Dominican Republic in the bronze-medal game.

Thomas returned to the Toros directly following his great performance on the international stage with renewed confidence and the same passion and intensity. This translated well for both Thomas and the Toros, who posted a 3-1 record in its first four games of the 2011 season. Thomas continued to step up his game, posting 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds over those four contests, including an impressive 24 and 16 in a victory over Tulsa. As the D-League season began the NBA lockout was finally drawing to a close. Training camps were set to open the day after the Toros’ fourth game of the year. This is when Lance received his second shot at the NBA, as his call finally came and he got invited to training camp with the New Orleans Hornets.

Thomas was never afraid to show emotion during his time at Duke (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Although he had received the call to training camp, Lance’s greatest hurdle was yet to come. His first preseason game was very promising, however. With much of the Hornet’s roster on a plane from Los Angeles following the Chris Paul trade, Thomas started for the Hornets in their first preseason game. He tallied eight points and seven rebounds in 37 quality minutes. This was the first sign that unlike his last stint with the Nets, Thomas might actually be here to stay. The Hornets’ second preseason game had me a bit more scared. As New Orleans tinkered around with its new pieces, Lance only played eight minutes and did not score. But when the final cuts were made on Saturday afternoon, Thomas was the one with the last laugh.

What will the Hornets gain from Lance Thomas? Let’s keep it realistic, he’s not going to start or even log significant minutes on this team this year. However, when he gets his chance, he is the type of player that always seizes an opportunity. Lance’s career in the NBA hinges on the same things that made his college career so special: the little things. He’s going to have to continue to be that guy that plays defense, rebounds, and fights for loose balls, but at least he won’t be struggling to adjust to a new role on an NBA team, that’s what he’s been doing since he started college.

Lance’s story doesn’t end here, in fact some might say that it is only just beginning. However, making an NBA roster does not guarantee that you are going to stick around. Thomas’s next task is going to be to fight for minutes and to keep a spot on the active roster. Hopefully Thomas’ hard work continues to pay off and he can make a career of it. In the end, it’s only fitting that the NBA’s season starts on Christmas day this year, because I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to wake up on Christmas morning knowing they’ve realized a lifelong dream.

Best of luck to Lance and all of Duke’s NBA players this season from all of us here at Crazie-Talk, and happy holidays to all of our readers! Stay Crazie, my friends.