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.

Looking Back To Move Forward

Good teams win games, but great teams can bounce back from a tough loss, and I’ll speak for the entire Crazies community by saying we can file last week’s game in Columbus under the “tough loss” category. Taking 20-point defeats is not something that the Duke Blue Devils are used to, but luckily for us, Colorado State is coming to town tonight.

We can take away many negatives and a few positives away from the Ohio State game, some of which I discussed in my post yesterday. But there is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on—in order to get back to form and elevate itself to the next level, this Duke team needs a change. Luckily for us, the guy calling the shots for this team knows just a few things about basketball. Although he has not found himself in this situation many times throughout his illustrious career, Coach K has a knack for responding to a blowout loss with an adjustment that alters the identity of the team, and when Coach K responds, the team responds as well. Let’s take a look back to some similar situations Duke teams have found itself in over the last few years to examine the adjustments we might see tonight against Colorado State.

Nolan Smith shot 1-for-7 against Clemson and was subsequently pulled from the starting lineup (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: February 4, 2009—Clemson 74, Duke 47
What Went Wrong: In a word…everything. Duke couldn’t throw a shot into the ocean during this game, shooting a miserable 30.8% from the field. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer, who would eventually lead the Blue Devils to a national championship the next season, shot a combined 4-23. Meanwhile, Duke had no answer for Clemson’s Trevor Booker, who shot 8-for-10 from the floor en route to 21 points and eight rebounds.
How Coach K Adjusted: Finding themselves in a similar situation as this year’s Blue Devils, with no true point guard to speak of, Greg Paulus assumed the role in Duke’s next game, starting in favor of Nolan Smith. Krzyzewski also used a significantly smaller rotation in this game, with only six Blue Devils playing more than 7 minutes in the contest.
The Result: Despite going in down 32-19 at the half, Duke came back to win an overtime thriller at Cameron by a score of 78-75. Miami’s Jack McClinton scored a game-high 34 points in a herculean effort, while Paulus added 18 points in his first game at point guard. Duke’s shooting woes continued, however, as Kyle Singler scored 17 points but at the expense of a 5-for-23 shooting effort. Overall, Duke would go on to lose its next two games following Miami, but was able to finish 8-1 down the stretch en route to an ACC Tournament championship. The team would fall earn a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and fall in the Sweet 16 to #3 seed Villanova.

Kyle Singler's 18 points were not enough against the Hoyas (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2010—Georgetown 89, Duke 77
What Went Wrong: Georgetown shot an obscene 71.7% from the field as Lance Thomas and Miles Plumlee’s shoddy interior defense allowed the Hoyas’ Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman to attack the rim and score at will. Duke once again relied too heavily on its outside shooting and was only able to muster 9-of-29 from three-point land. President Obama watched on at the Verizon Center as Georgetown pushed its lead to 23 late in the second half, before a mini Duke run allowed the final score to look slightly more respectable.
How Coach K Adjusted: Brian Zoubek, who played only two minutes against Georgetown, saw his playing time increase to 13 minutes in Duke’s next contest, an 86-67 victory over a ranked Georgia Tech squad. Zoubek continued to put in quality minutes in the team’s ensuing games and replaced Miles Plumlee in the starting lineup three games later, when he played the best game of his Duke career with 16 points and 17 rebounds in a 77-56 rout of Maryland.
The Result: We all know how this story ended, as Zoubek started for the rest of the season, playing a crucial role as Duke went on to win 18 of its final 19 games en route to its fourth national championship.

St. Johns had its way with the Blue Devils, but Duke got the last laugh come March (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The Game: January 30, 2011—St. John’s 93, Duke 78
What Went Wrong: Playing at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm certainly had a home court advantage and didn’t waste any time, jumping on the Blue Devils early and often. As the lead ballooned to 21 points at the half, the Johnnies continued to coast, not allowing Duke to cut the lead to less than 13 for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils were too reliant on their three-point shooting early in the game, and fell behind as the shots were not falling. Faced with a large deficit, Duke had to rely on long range shooting in the second half in hopes of a comeback, but its struggles continued from beyond the arc, knocking down just 5-of-26 three-point attempts on the afternoon.
How Coach K Adjusted: Tyler Thornton replaced Seth Curry in Duke’s next game at Maryland as the Blue Devils sought to shift their focus from three-point shooting to defense and efficiency in their half-court sets.
The Result: Duke held firm control over an inexperienced Maryland team throughout the contest, coasting to an 80-62 win. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith led the team with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Mason Plumlee added an impressive 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting. Duke would go on to post an 11-2 record to close out the season with yet another ACC Tournament title before falling in the Sweet 16 to Arizona.

And here we are. Following a performance in Columbus that couldn’t even qualify as subpar, Duke faces yet another critical juncture in its season. If there is any time for new life to be breathed into this Blue Devils team, it is now. Despite minor tests against Temple, Florida State, and upstart Virginia over the ensuing weeks, Duke certainly won’t be considered an underdog in any game it plays before its February 8th matchup with “the-team-who-must-not-be-named” in Chapel Hill. Although following last week’s beatdown at the hands of the Buckeyes this year’s matchup at Carolina looks especially daunting, if this team can make the necessary adjustments and hit its stride, we could be looking at one of the games of the year in college basketball.

Michael Gbinije saw increased playing time against Ohio State, scoring these two points on a fast break (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

The only question now is, what will be Krzyzewski’s adjustment this time around? It almost certainly will include some sort of a change in tomorrow night’s starting lineup, though it is not particularly clear as to who will be inserted. The most likely to be pulled from the starting lineup following last week’s debacle appear to be Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins, both of whom played quite poorly and sat nearly the entire second half. Although Kelly has not always been reliable defensively (which is where Duke clearly got burned against Ohio State), I think the clear choice is to pull Dawkins. If you’ve been keeping up with our statistical analyses using advanced metrics, you’ll see that despite his weak showing last week, Kelly has been the most consistent offensive weapon on this year’s Duke team. Who is inserted into the starting lineup is a bit more up in the air, however. What Duke is lacking right now is the presence of a big wing player who can defend on the perimeter. As of now the only person on the roster that fits that role is Michael Gbinije, who saw more minutes against Ohio State than he had all year and put forth a decent effort. But I still question whether at this point in the year Gbinije is ready to take on a starting role, so I would say the more likely option is to see Quinn Cook or Tyler Thornton tomorrow night. Putting a true point guard out there will provide more stability on offense, and Thornton’s defense would surely be appreciated to make sure nobody can ever replicate Aaron Craft’s performance from last week again. If I were a betting man, I would say Thornton starts in place of Dawkins, but I would not be surprised to see any of these three in the starting lineup tonight.

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Colorado State does not pose a particularly tough test, so it should have plenty of opportunities to try different combinations of players and work to improve on some of the weaknesses from last week. Let’s hope history repeats itself and the adjustments pay off. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Deviled Eggs: June 28th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best.

Scheyer and Zoubek will get their chances at NBA rosters. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

1.  Hairston, Miller, and Rivers Interview at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship

Duke Hoop caught up with Josh Hairston, Quincy Miller, and Austin Rivers following their 131-63 victory over the US Virgin Islands Saturday night to talk Duke, team chemistry, and their futures.

2.  Now that the 2010 NBA Draft is over…

Andy Katz gets a head start on who to watch for in the 2011 draft.  4 Blue Devils made the list:  Kyrie, Mason, Kyle, and Nolan.  While we love the praise being given to Kyrie and Mason, we’re certainly hoping they stay at Duke a little longer than Katz thinks.

3.  New-Look ACC

A quick rundown of some of the changes you’ll see in the ACC this year.  In the article, here’s what Ole Roy had to say about last year:

“It didn’t bother them that we weren’t any good when they were beating the dickens out of us at Cameron. But if we’re both really good, I think it helps us.”

I suppose Roy may actually have a point.  While 32 point beatdowns are enjoyable, good competition might be nice every once in a while.

4.  Speaking from Experience

Interesting read on JJ Redick as he looks back on his transition from college to the NBA, reflecting on where he is now and giving some advice to the new draftees.

5.  Scheyer and Zoubs to get their shots

Though both went undrafted, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek have been named to summer league rosters and will get their chances to make it to the NBA.  Best of luck to both of them, as well as to Elliot Williams, drafted 22nd by the Portland Trailblazers!

6.  Duke gets ESPY Nominations

Coach K’s in the running for Best Coach as well as the national championship for Best Game.  Be sure to log on and vote!  (Link included in article.)

Finally, just wanted to give a special thanks to all our readers on Crazie Talk’s 1 year anniversary!  We can’t believe how many followers we’ve gained over the past 12 months.  As always, we encourage you to send us feedback at email@crazie-talk.com!

Deviled Eggs: June 14th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best.

Nolan, Seth, and Kyle impress at CP3 Elite Guard Camp

Chris Paul hosts this annual event for the best high school and college guard prospects in the country. Duke was represented well, as Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Seth Curry were the cream of the crop at the event.

Nolan was all smiles at the prospect of next year’s team. In Mr. Smith’s words, “we’re gonna be loaded.” You can check out interviews with Kyle and Seth as well.

Coach K Academy

Coach K’s annual fantasy camp attracted ESPN’s own Gene Wojciechowski. The camp, which also features former Duke stars as camp coaches, allows for an immersion into Duke Basketball for old folks willing to drop a few grand.

ACC reshuffling?

A well written piece describing the potential repercussions of Nebraska’s move into the Big 10 (Big 12 now I guess). Could Duke potentially be shifting conferences?

Brian Zoubek at 76ers Camp

How good is Brian Zoubek? The 7-footer recently showed off his constantly improving game for the 76ers at their training camp.

Coach K Makes Bank

Coach K- bringing newfound meaning to “Get money, get paid.”

Quincy Miller- Getting Buckets

Finally, check out this new mixtape with highlights of some of the top high-school ballers from across America at Nike EYBL. Duke-recruit Quincy Miller holds the spotlight from 1:38 – 2:10, and he does not disappoint. For even more coverage of Quincy “Youngtruth” Miller from EYBL, check out this video.

Deviled Eggs: May 24th, 2010

Every Monday morning, Crazie Talk culls Duke basketball news, articles, and videos into a half dozen of the best “Deviled Eggs” on the interwebs.

Here are this week’s best:

Kyrie Irving Ghostwrites for Goodman

Last week you heard from top Duke target Austin Rivers. This week, our very own Kyrie Irving writes about his perspective coming into the season, his take on the championship, and the possibility of back to back titles.

G.Hill’s Redemption Song

Grant Hill’s play has been one of the main reasons the Suns have reached the Western Conference Finals. Although he’s been assigned the daunting task of guarding Kobe Bryant, Grant has had one hell of a season and continues to represent our university with pride.

Seth Curry: “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

For him? For us? Probably both. You can check out Seth’s interview with 620 The Buzz here. You can also hear 620 The Buzz speak with future Devils Josh Hairston and Kyrie Irving. The future is absurdly bright.

Paulus Now to Coach?

So two weeks ago, we mentioned that GP3 was trying out for the Super Bowl Champions.  While it doesn’t seem like that will result in a job, there are now rumors he is looking into an assistant coaching position at Mount St. Mary’s.  Greg was always a team leader during his time here at Duke, and we’re sure he would make a great coach.

One on One with Chris Collins

Coach Collins talks Nate, Coach K, and the 2010-2011 season in this great interview with Clint Jackson. We at Crazie-Talk would also like to give a special congrats to his father, Doug, who was recently named the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Best of luck in Philly!

Zoubs and Lance Reminisce

…thinkin’ of bliss of the good days. Tupac lyrics aside, these two interviews are two of the best I’ve ever read – from two of the most hard-working players I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. They gave everything they had on the court, and their perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate prize. Congrats to Jon, Lance, and Brian for an amazing four years at Duke. They’ve made us all proud to be Blue Devils!