Before coming to Tufts in fall 2019, Dylan Thoerner was an accomplished guard and starter for Beckman High School in California. Although he grew up as an all-around talented athlete, Thoerner, now a sophomore, gravitated toward basketball from an early age.
“I've played basketball ever since I can remember — on those little hoops,” he said.
Traveling across the country to the East Coast, Thoerner’s transition to collegiate basketball was difficult because of more than just the cold weather.
“In high school, the competition level is different and my goal on the team was as well," he said. "I carried much more of a heavy burden and my role was a lot greater. In college, everyone is on your level and you have to figure out what value you add to the team."
Thoerner played almost the entirety of every game in high school, compared to 15.7 minutes per game in his first season for the Jumbos.
“It was an adjustment period going from starter to coming off the bench,” he said.
Despite early struggles, Thoerner made the most out of his first season. He averaged 7.5 points per game and shot 35.4% from deep and 79.7% from the line, but his stats don’t tell the full story. Thoerner showed up in a big way during important games, including knocking downtwo clutch last-second free throws to send Tufts into overtime against Colby College in the 2020 NESCAC championship. Tufts went on to win the title 102–94.
“It felt amazing. In the moment, you have to just zone everything out and treat it as just free throws," Thoerner said. "The key is not to think about that pressure and know that you’ve done this before, and that it’s just two free throws."
As a first-year, Thoerner's execution under pressure with the Jumbos' season on the line impressed many at Cousens Gymnasium, including his teammate and senior captain Eric Savage.
In a post-game interview with the Daily, Savage said, "My good friend Dylan has ice in his veins, totally pure."
Unfortunately, the basketball team's season came to a halt shortly after due to COVID-19. Tufts had been set to play in the men's NCAA Div. III tournament's "Sweet Sixteen" round when the season was canceled.
“I was super sad; everyone was disappointed. I remember there was dead silence in the locker room," Thoerner said. "I felt especially bad for senior captain Eric Savage.”
Although Thoerner was unable to carry out the rest of his first season, he felt that he overcame the obstacles with which he started the year, and even won the team's "most improved player" award.
“By the end of the year, I got a lot more confident," he said. "I realized that no matter where I’m playing, I’m still just playing basketball. By the end of the year, I was even playing a little bit more."
Thoerner is one of many athletes that have elected to study remotely in order to train from home. He was on campus in the fall but once he knew the winter season would be canceled, he opted to stay home for the spring semester. Thoerner has been hitting the weight room individually, working with a personal trainer and playing with pro players in the gym.
“It’s not the same as playing with your teammates,” Thoerner said. “We have really good chemistry. That’s one of the reasons why we were so successful. We handled adversity really well. Being friends is something very beneficial for playing in games.”
With Thoerner’s performance last season and his dedication to the game, there’s no doubt that his role on the Tufts team will continue to expand in the years to come.