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: July 19th, 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.

Redick and Williams sign new NBA deals

The former teammate All-Americans JJ Redick and Shelden Williams signed new deals in the past few days—Redick staying with the Orlando Magic, and Shelden signing with the Denver Nuggets.

Redick cashed in on a steady season (averaging about 10 ppg off the bench), earning a 3 year/$19 million deal. The Chicago Bulls had offered JJ that same amount, but the Magic exercised his free agent option and kept him. Good choice, Orlando. JJ was the most competent bench player for the Magic throughout the playoffs, upping his scoring to 11.2 points per game in the thrilling Boston series, and consistently making smart plays (even if he should’ve called that timeout in Game 2). With Vince Carter moving into his late innings, JJ could earn more playing time (and more money) after these three years are up. Whether he remains in Florida for the rest of his career or moves elsewhere, Redick has duped all of his critics (including this author) who thought he wouldn’t be able to hang in the league. Congrats, JJ—you can laugh at the haters all the way to BofA.

Shelden has been more of an enigma. Short stints in Atlanta and Sacramento and last year’s run to the Finals with Boston yielded little for Duke’s all-time record holder in rebounds and blocks. Thus far in the NBA, The Landlord’s only tenant has been himself, on the pine. Who knows, maybe that will change in Denver. The Nuggets’ two power forward options, Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, are both recovering from knee surgery in the offseason. I think with some more PT in the regular season (before Martin and Andersen are at full strength) will boost Shel’s confidence a lot. He looked lost when thrust into the lineup in the late games of the Finals, blowing a wide open dunk at one point. This is not the beast Duke fans knew during his time in college (or the man Candace Parker fell for). The former fifth draft pick (wow) needs to prove himself in Denver to stick in the league. Good luck, Shel.

ETA: Duke connections just abound, don’t they? Lee Melchionni is Shelden Williams’ agent. That’s what you call a family.

2012 wing prospects Alex Murphy and Shabazz Muhammad light up the summer stage

With the 2011 class adding another member last week, Duke recruitniks are looking toward 2012 to see what high school prospects we’d like to add to the roster (but will we even exist in 2012?). Murphy and Muhammad are two guys the coaching staff are really pursuing, and for good reason. Some thought Murphy (older brother Erik was a former Duke recruit and now plays for Florida) was a Duke lock after he and his family chatted up Coach K in his office during the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in the Triangle. But Murphy, a smooth and skilled 6’8” wing, is getting looks from all the top dogs, including the dreaded Calipari (don’t buy his shtick, Alex, or let him buy you a car or whatever he does). Muhammad will end up a top-5 prospect in my opinion—see the video linked above for a sample of his many skills. We have a legitimate shot with both players, but don’t be surprised if we get neither. Talented guys like Murphy and ‘Bazz have all kinds of options.

For more on these two players check out our highlight video and scouting report from the Tournament of Champions.

Jon Scheyer leaves Heat summer league team with injured eye

Bummer, man. After a promising start to the NBA summer league, Jon Scheyer was smacked (inadvertently) in the eye during a game against the Golden State Warriors. What’s worse is that Scheyer left the Las Vegas camp to see a specialist in Chicago, and will likely miss the rest of the summer league games. Jon’s chance to ride the Heat wave (see what I did there?) deep into the playoffs seems to be receding into nothingness like the Florida Everglades. It’d take a big effort by the Miami brass to get Scheyer onto the roster, and let’s face it, Pat Riley is a huge ass and head coach Erik Spoelstra is like, what—16 years old? Not happening.

Get well soon, Jon. Even if he has to sit out the NBA for a season (maybe a good thing, with a potential lockout pending anyway), I’m confident his talents are good enough to earn a roster spot in the future. And what NBA audience wouldn’t love the Scheyerface?

Michael Gbinije leads Team Takeover to Peach Jam crown (video)

The Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. wrapped up over the weekend, and ’11 commit Michael Gbinije was the ostensible star, racking up 19 points in the final (His teammate, 2012 prospect James Robinson, is another player to keep and eye on). Congratulations to Mike G. and his D.C. team. In the video above (ESPNU recruiting ‘guru’ Paul Biancardi…I know, sorry), the Gbinije highlights start at 1:12. Kid’s got confidence going to the rim to go with his smooth jumper. Some Duke fans have compared him to what Ricky Price was supposed to be (without all of Ricky’s crazy athleticism).

ESPN loves Duke enough to give us an ESPY

…for best Male Collegiate Athletic program. Pretty well-deserved, considering our triumphs in hoops and lacrosse, with a strong showing by the men’s tennis team (Henrique Cunha—remember the name). We even won five games in football. Congratulations to Duke A.D. Kevin White, who is awesome, and Kyle and Zoubs, who got the “TwESPY” for tallest collective at the awards show. Whatever that means.

Ten Great Moments from 2009-10

Our cohort in the Duke blogosphere DukeHoop is counting down ten great moments from the 2009-10 Title season. Check the above link for moment number ten, which is actually several moments of pure Duke toughness. Or, as my friend back in Asheville, N.C. used to say when I dove on the floor for a loose ball in a meaningless pickup game—”THAT’S DUKE HUSTLE!”

For random “Deviled Eggs” throughout the week, be sure to follow C-T on our totally awesome Twitter, bro.

Deviled Eggs: July 12th, 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.

Coach K, Kyle, and the rest of us can't wait until next year. (Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com.)

Kyle, Nolan Hungry For More

Duke fans, we are incredibly lucky two have not one, but two very, very special kids representing Duke basketball and Duke University. Also – both Nolan and Kyle were selected to play on the USA Select Team, which practices against the Men’s National Team as they prepare for World Championships in July.

J.J. Redick is a Hot Commodity

Da Bulls offered him a three-year, $19 million offer sheet on Friday night. But the Magic want to keep him in Orlando. Either way, J.J. is getting paid.

Scheyer Eyes Miami Roster

With three superstars on board, Miami may be the perfect place for Jon to get a shot at success in the NBA. We wish him the best.

Austin Rivers Loves the Duke Store…

…just like the rest of us. Even though he won’t be announcing in August, we’re pretty sure he’ll be a Blue Devil when it’s all said and done.

ACC, ESPN Agree to 12-Year Deal

Which means more local games will be syndicated to Raycom. At least the second UNC game will be on CBS in Primetime.

Kings of the Dance

For any of you who may have forgotten: exactly thirteen weeks ago, Duke won the 2010 National Championship. Another excellent video from DukeBluePlanet, as usual.

PS. This video will be the best nine minutes and twenty-two seconds you spend on the internet today.


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!