Mia Katz/Contributing Photographer Junior forward Thomas Bruce sits in a position to improve upon an impressive season as the Bearcats rebound from an underwhelming 2017-18 campaign.

When then-senior guard Marlon Beck exited the hardwood for the final time on March 1 last season, the Binghamton men’s basketball program was left with numerous unanswered questions as it sought to fill the void left by one of the franchise’s top scorers. Anyone who witnessed a game during the 2016-17 campaign could have expected either senior forward Willie Rodriguez or junior guard J.C. Show to carry the load offensively. Not many people, however, could have expected junior forward Thomas Bruce to fill that role.

Bruce, who was once considered one-dimensional, experienced a complete revelation in his playing style largely due to Beck’s departure. Fans knew of Bruce’s uncanny ability to force tough shots in the paint and reject layups back into the faces of those who dared to test him at the rim. His array of post moves and aggressiveness on the boards, however, was still a sight to be seen.

Bruce, recalling the first time he took the sport seriously, started playing club basketball in Georgetown, Washington D.C. around the age of seven. He ultimately went on to attend DeMatha Catholic, one of the most successful high schools in the entire country. Befriending current NBA players such as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant, Chicago Bulls guard Jerian Grant and Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz, Bruce was assuredly in elite company.

As a result of anchoring a high school team that captured 33 wins in a season while averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds against national top-25 teams, Bruce was recruited heavily by Binghamton. Since his former school is known for producing future NBA players, BU knew it had to make a strong case to recruit him.

“Binghamton was recruiting me hard and I liked the atmosphere when I was visiting,” Bruce said. “It was just a nice feeling, it felt homey and I liked all of my teammates and coaches.”

Bruce never necessarily struggled in a Bearcats jersey, but he undoubtedly turned in his best season this year. Although he rose his scoring by nearly 75 points and his blocks by 26 compared to his sophomore campaign, Bruce did not attribute his all-around improvement to replicating anyone else.

“I wouldn’t say I model [my play] after any current or former NBA player because I just try to be myself,” Bruce said. “I wanna make myself someone that someone else looks at and says ‘I wanna be like him,’ rather than me saying that.”

When he isn’t on the court recording thunderous putback dunks or sending shots toward media row, Bruce acknowledged what he enjoys in his rare amount of free time — as with any Division I athlete, a great deal of free time is simply nonexistent due to the demands of collegiate sports. Bruce, however, certainly seeks to capitalize during his days not dominated by basketball.

“On a day off, I like to go outside, talk to people and play video games, like a normal person,” Bruce said. “Just have fun pretty much, be around people, be active and not be bored.”

With just one year remaining for the 225-pound, 6-foot-9-inch forward, Bruce, who is majoring in Africana studies and minoring in graphic design, is hoping to work for Nike after graduation. Since he has family members who work for the company, he is seeking to utilize his minor as well as his connections to secure a job with the brand.

For Bruce and Bearcats fans, the end of the road is thankfully not here yet. After a tumultuous 2-14 America East season in which BU didn’t even make the playoffs, it’s reasonable to assume that Bruce will use his improved game to propel the team next year. With Rodriguez and senior forward Bobby Ahearn set to graduate this spring, Bruce will have his hands full yet again. Showcasing his development this past year, he’s absolutely capable of proving the doubters wrong for a second time this upcoming fall.