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Bruce forms instant connection with Beavers

CORVALLIS — Derrick Bruce still had a few official visits planned for other locales when he came to Corvallis and Oregon State last year.

The Southern California basketball product liked what he heard from coach Wayne Tinkle and the rest of the Beavers' men’s basketball staff. That put OSU high on his list as he closed in on the decision of where he would spend his college years.

But the point guard also wanted to see some other places.

That was until he met future teammates Drew Eubanks, Tres Tinkle and Stephen “Stevie” Thompson Jr. late last summer on his trip to the Beaver State. It nailed down his commitment.

“Coming here and connecting so well with them, on the court and off the court, just made my decision better,” Bruce said.

All four incoming freshmen are now on campus, preparing for their first season and what they hope is the return to glory for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1990.

Bruce said he chose Oregon State — over Arizona State and Gonzaga — because of “the fact that we’re underdogs and the other freshmen coming in, and we can change around the legacy of Oregon State.”

Finishing a year of prep school in Florida early following his high school career, Bruce enrolled an OSU for the spring term.

He says it began a bit “rocky” but that he was able to turn that around. More than anything, though, he got comfortable with his surroundings and started to understand what being a college student is all about.

At the time of Bruce’s signing, Tinkle called him “hands down the top player at that position on our list.”

Bruce attended Colony High in Ontario, California, for his senior season, where he averaged 21.3 points, five rebounds, 3.5 assists and three steals.

Thompson, in just a few on-court interactions with Bruce, likes what he sees in his new teammate.

“He can do everything on the court,” Thompson said.

Coach Tinkle says Bruce is an unselfish true point guard who can push the tempo, making plays off the dribble and is a strong outside shooter. At 6-foot-3 with long arms, Bruce says he can harass the ball on defense.

The next step, Tinkle said, is to teach Bruce how to set up his teammates and for him to understand that if need be he can still rely on his 1-on-1 skills. Though, the coach added, there will be games when Bruce’s offensive abilities are showcased because that’s the Beavers’ strongest advantage in those games.

“But I think for him to become a more well-rounded player … (he needs) to understand how to get the team in offense, how to get some of his other scorers going, and then pick his spots,” the coach said.

After signing with Oregon State last November, Bruce watched as his new team set a program record for home wins (15) and became one of the Pac-12 Conference’s top defensive teams despite a perceived lack of talent and depth.

His excitement rose to a new level.

“It just shows me how much we can really do next year, how much impact we can have on the Pac-12,” Bruce said.

“It’s a great coaching staff and seeing what they did with the kids they had this year and not having many scholarship players, that made it way better. It made my decision … it felt right.”

Oregon State freshman Derrick Bruce was impressed with head coach Wayne Tinkle before signing, but was sold once he met future teammates Drew Eubanks, Tres Tinkle and Stephen “Stevie” Thompson Jr. AP PHOTO