Photo: Emily Paine
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Zach Thomas, Patriot League Player of the Year, rounds out his career on his home court.
Playing in the NBA is this Engineer’s Dream
by Alexander Diegel

Give Zach Thomas ’18 one thing — he likes a challenge. Not only is the 6-foot-7 forward a co-captain and leading scorer of the Bucknell men’s basketball team, but he’s also set to graduate this spring as a biomedical engineering major.

On the trek to his degree, Thomas has worked on a dual-injection syringe used for patients with atrial fibrillation to restore natural heart rhythm. This spring, the native of Frederick County, Md., will complete an article on the device that he hopes to get published.

As part of his senior design course, Thomas and classmates are designing a product to stabilize the heart during a coronary-artery bypass graft. “We met with cardiologists, sat in on different surgeries, and tried to identify problem areas or things we could help improve — that’s the main goal of the course,” he says.

Yet, despite his successes on and off the court, Thomas sounds like many soon-to-be college graduates. When asked about future plans, he says, “I’m not entirely sure yet. I want to continue with basketball for as long as I can play professionally. [Biomedical engineering] is something I’ve been interested in over the last four years, and it’s something that I assume I’ll still be interested in when I’m done playing.”

Thomas’ senior season is likely to create opportunities for him to continue his career on the court. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Thomas was averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game — ranking him No. 42 and 36 in Division I, respectively — and leading the nation in free throws attempted and made.

“The numbers definitely help,” Thomas explains about his senior season’s impact on his professional chances. “We’ve all gotten better, but I’ve had a pretty good year, which has helped me get a little bit more recognition.

Last year, Thomas and the Bison strutted their respective stuff in front of a national audience of fans and scouts. As Patriot League champions, Bucknell earned an NCAA tournament bid, but lost to West Virginia, 86-80. This season, Thomas and the Bison punched their ticket to return to the tournament with an 83-54 rout of Colgate in the Patriot League Championship. The victory marked Bucknell’s first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearance since the 2005 and 2006 tournaments. They lost to third-seed Michigan State, 82-78.

With every big performance and march toward an NCAA tournament bid, Thomas built a potential NBA résumé. “Some agents have contacted us, so I’m just kind of letting my coaches and family handle that now, not getting into any distractions.”

Instant Replay
Greatest career highlight:
Scoring my 1,000th point in the Patriot League Championship game last season against Lehigh.
Balancing Books and Basketball:
Playing D1 basketball and being a biomedical engineer do not usually go together — unless you are at a school like Bucknell. Time management and efficiency are keys to success.
Off the court:
I do not get a lot of downtime, so when I do I usually just like to hang out with friends and family, watch movies and relax.
Lessons learned on the court that spill into the classroom:
Basketball taught me persistence, teamwork and communication skills that I apply in the classroom. I apply classroom skills such as problem-solving and creativity to the basketball court as well.