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 is working with classmates to design 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 throw attempts. His numbers compare favorably to the senior statistics of Bucknell’s first — and, at this point, only — NBA draftee, Mike Muscala ’13.
“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. I’m just trying to continue that throughout the rest of the year, so I can give myself the best chance possible [to go pro].”
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. Bucknell lost, but fought gamely against heavily favored West Virginia, falling 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, when the underdog Bison knocked off Kansas and Arkansas in first-round games.
With every big performance and march toward an NCAA tournament bid, Thomas builds 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.”