A Coach's Choice
On Dec. 21, 2009, after Duke had defeated Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden to run the Blue Devils’ record to 11-1, Thomas purchased $97,800 worth of jewelry from Rafaello & Co., in Manhattan. Rafaello & Co. promotes itself as a “deluxe” jeweler which also does business as A+A Diamonds, Ltd. Its website claims to have customers such as entertainer Jay Z.
According to a lawsuit filed by Rafaello & Co. in January, 2012, Thomas made a $30,000 down payment on five pieces of jewelry he carried out of the store and received a credit for $67,800. Thomas, who finished last season with the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, never paid the balance until the suit was settled in 2012 and all terms were sealed.
The new basketball season is upon us and Krzyzewski will face the media at his own press conference next week and again at the annual ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on October 18. It will be a big stage for Krzyzewski. Local, regional and national media will be in attendance for print, Internet, radio and TV interviews.
How will Krzyzewski answer the questions he will surely be asked about Thomas, what happened in New York and whether Duke won its last national championship with an ineligible player on the court?
He has one of three choices and all of them present him with problems:
1) Krzyzewski can say that he talked to Thomas, who refused to give him any information that would be of help to the NCAA. That would be a far-fetched response because the one person Thomas is going to tell the truth to is his former coach, and Krzyzewski will also be asked to address the speculation that he reported all this to the NCAA in the first place.
2) Krzyzewski could say that he spoke to Thomas and, by everything he knows about the bylaws of the NCAA, Thomas was not an ineligible player for the balance of the 2010 season. And that he cannot say anymore due to the terms of the legal settlement.
This would also be received with great skepticism and Krzyzewski would be seen as interpreting NCAA rules in his own favor.
In 2011, he appeared on a nationally televised special with deceased and disgraced football coach Joe Paterno called “Difference Makers – Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski”. During the appearance with Paterno on the Penn State campus, the two iconic coaches praised each other for building impeccable programs based on truth and dignity. We know what happened since then at Penn State, where that claim to honor was washed away in the locker room showers.
After the Penn State scandal erupted and Paterno was forced to resign, Krzyzewski carefully defended Paterno, saying he was 84 years old and social standards differed from generation to generation. If the truth ever came out that Krzyzewski had lied about the Lance Thomas affair, his entire career would be judged differently – as Paterno’s is now. Had they first turned in former assistant coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky, Paterno and Penn State would have been saluted for upholding the standards they instead only claimed over the next 12 years. Paterno would have gone out the hero everyone had worshipped.
3) Krzyzewski could say that he talked to Thomas and learned what he did could be in violation of NCAA rules and that he has turned all the information he had over to the NCAA. And if found in violation, he could say, Duke is prepared to give back the trophy, to vacate the 2010 NCAA title and the 26 victories in which Thomas had illegally played. He and the school were currently awaiting word of any allegations. The precedent here involves Memphis superstar Derrick Rose, who was deemed to be ineligible after his one college season ended when it was learned that someone else took Rose’s SAT.
Coach K would be acting as he knew Paterno should have many years before and, when the dust settled, he would be regarded as the most honorable coach in the history of college athletics for doing what was right and living by the rules of the sport he coached. Krzyzewski would be celebrated far more than for any victory or championship, further dignifying not only his university but the USA men’s basketball team he coached to consecutive Gold Medals. He would remain a hero to his faithful.
And even if Duke were found in violation, gave back the trophy and took down the 2010 banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Krzyzewski’s career victories reduced to 901, unlike Paterno, he would still be coaching, still winning games and still fully capable of cutting down more national championship nets.
It’s a coach’s choice from that trio of paths that could affect a Hall of Fame career and starting next week, he will have to take one of them.
The heady nectar of cutting the nets is already enjoyed, but we may see just how coveted that coveted trophy is when Coach K is faced with these choices.