When asked which player he expected to make the most impressive jump from last season to now, BU men’s basketball head coach Tommy Dempsey had high praise for junior forward Thomas Bruce, the imposing 6-foot-9-inch, 225-pound forward from Washington, D.C.
“I think he’s had a really solid first two years, but he hasn’t been all that he can be yet, because his ceiling is as high as almost any player in the league,” Dempsey said.
Bruce came to Binghamton in 2015 after graduating from DeMatha Catholic High School, an athletic powerhouse that has recently produced notable college and professional basketball players including Sixers guard Markelle Fultz, Pacers guard Victor Oladipo and Thunder forward Jerami Grant. Other notable alumni include former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook and current Notre Dame basketball head coach Mike Brey.
“He’s one of the more talented big guys in the league; he’s just very young,” Dempsey said. ”He showed up [and] he played his first game at 17.”
Dempsey praised the talent and maturity of Bruce, and discussed the age disadvantage he has in comparison to other players. Bruce will be 19 at the season’s start, making him one of the youngest college juniors in the country.
“He’s 19 now, and a lot of the guys at 19 are freshmen in college basketball,” Dempsey said. “He is growing and maturing as a guy and as a player.”
Bruce is known primarily as a defensive player, ending last season with 30 blocks, far higher than any of his teammates, and third in the America East (AE) Conference. He also averaged one block per game, being one of only three AE players with this distinction. As a confirmation of his talent, Bruce was named to the AE All-Defensive Team. Despite his accolades on defense, he has aspirations of contributing as more than just a defensive figure.
“I’ve been working a lot on my agility,” Bruce said. “Being able to guard on the perimeter, being more versatile with ball handling and shooting, trying to become an all-around better player.”
Last season as a sophomore, Bruce played in 30 of the team’s 32 games, starting 23 of them. He averaged 26.0 minutes per game last year, good enough for fourth on the team, but down slightly from his freshman average of 27.5 minutes per game. Throughout his sophomore campaign, he averaged 7.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest, showing minimal improvement from his rookie averages of 6.8 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Defense is still extremely important to Bruce’s game, and the Bearcats will rely on Bruce’s defensive prowess to stop the other high-scoring, talented players in the conference in their pursuit of a conference championship.
It’s no secret that last season ended poorly for the Bearcats. After starting the year 12-11, the team imploded during conference play, falling in its final nine games to finish the season with an overall record of 12-20, and a conference record of 3-13.
Improvement is necessary for the Bearcats, and Bruce will be a big determinant of that. In addition to his efforts to improve as an individual, Bruce knows that the most important part of the offseason is helping to improve the team as a whole.
“We’ve been making a lot of progress this offseason,” Bruce said, “We’re getting everyone back, we got a couple of additions to the team with [redshirt junior forward] Caleb [Stewart] and [freshman guard] Albert [Odero] so we’re definitely going to be a different team this year and we’re just trying to work every day to get better, and we’ll be good.”