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.

Au Revoir, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving has announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and forego his final three years of eligibility at Duke.

 

Kyrie's last game against Arizona was one of his best in a Duke uniform. (courtesy of BluePlanetShots.com)

Kyrie leaves behind a difficult-to-digest legacy, as he only competed in 11 of Duke’s games this season. This writer, having been abroad in the fall semester, never got to see Kyrie play in Cameron, or in a live game at all. Although it’s incredibly disappointing to see him go, we cannot blame Kyrie for chasing his dream of playing professional basketball. He is still a Blue Devil, and always will be.

We wish him a great and healthy career wherever he ends up playing, and we hope he comes back to Durham to cheer on his team, as he did throughout his difficult injury.

UPDATE: Kyrie talks about his decision in this video from GoDuke.com:

Enjoy these highlights from Kyrie’s first huge performance on a national stage–31 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists against Michigan State.

And then maybe this video on Duke’s upset of UNLV in 1991 will help ease your aching spirits. Yes, it was an upset, Seth Davis.