- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last week, when news that Rafaello & Co., a high-end New York-based jeweler, was suing former Duke forward Lance Thomas for an alleged $67,800 in unpaid debt Thomas reportedly used to buy "a black diamond necklace, diamond-encrusted watch, diamond cross and diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus' head" (Jesus piece!), it looked like a potential disaster for Duke.
Here was a former player on a national title-winning team who bought nearly $100,000 in jewelry with $30,000 cash down while he was in college. Did he get that loan because of future earnings potential? Were other NCAA-outlawed extra benefits in play? And if so, would the NCAA go so far as to retroactively rule Thomas ineligible -- a la Derrick Rose at Memphis -- and be forced to strip the Blue Devils of their 2010 national title?
Those answers are still some time away, but the NCAA is on the case. The only problem: No one actually has to talk to the NCAA.
On Tuesday, The Raleigh News & Observer's Laura Keeley confirmed that Rafaello & Co. declined to speak with the NCAA, citing their ongoing litigation against Thomas. Thomas is long gone, and he has absolutely zero incentive to speak with enforcement staff. Bylaw Blog's John Infante told Keeley "if everybody keeps their mouth shut and everybody refuses to talk to the NCAA, and by everybody I mean Thomas and the jeweler and whoever might have provided him this $30,000 if it did come from someone else," then the NCAA will have no information, and thus no grounds on which to punish Duke.
If that's the case, Duke has little incentive to talk, either. On Tuesday morning, multiple Duke staffers told ESPN's Andy Katz that the program had no knowledge of Thomas's jewelry purchase. That doesn't really matter; an extra benefit is an extra benefit (to the tune of six figures, no less), and the NCAA could punish Duke even if it proved no one at the school could have known Thomas had purchased a Jesus piece from an NBA-favorite jewelry shop with a $70,000 line of credit.
Duke's main incentive to cooperate is to avoid the wrath of an NCAA that very, very much dislikes being deceived. And as CBS's Matt Norlander points out, the eventual release of court documents could include some information pertinent to the NCAA's investigation. But if that is the only recourse -- and there are no guarantees there, either -- then it's entirely possible the NCAA won't be able to pin this thing down.
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the NCAA will find someone willing to talk. We'll have to wait and see. But for now, the jewelry store in question has no interest in snitching. It could care less about NCAA sanctions and vacated titles. It just wants its money back.