Before graduating senior Eric Savage became a captain, eclipsed 1,000 career points and led the Tufts men’s basketball team to its first NESCAC championship in program history, he was a high school senior meeting with the Tufts coaching staff during an official visit.
During the meeting, coach Bob Sheldon asked Savage what he wanted out of the program.
“I told him I wanted to win at all costs,” Savage said.
Savage’s desire to win was partly a result of a career that up until then had lacked a first-place trophy — something he finally got at the end of four years as a Jumbo.
“I wanted to contribute as much as I could, but in terms of what my role was on the court, I didn’t care — I just wanted to win,” Savage said. “I had a career of almosts from a young age up to high school and Amateur Athletic Union. I was always finishing in these big tournaments close to a championship but I never actually won anything to call my own.”
After visiting campus and spending time with the team, Savage knew Tufts would be a good fit and officially committed in January of his senior year.
As soon as Savage arrived in Medford and practices began, Sheldon quickly became familiar with his competitive nature.
“He wanted to win. We butted heads, I even threw him out of practice as a first-year, but we grew to understand and respect each other,” Sheldon said.
Savage pointed to his relationship with Sheldon and the rest of the Jumbo coaching staff as a key reason for his successful development as a basketball player.
“They were extremely supportive and they believed in me from day one,” Savage said. “They always trusted me with the ball late in the game and trusted me to make the right choice to help the team win.”
Anyone who went to a Tufts men’s basketball game at Cousens Gymnasium this past season saw that Savage, who has been a captain the last two seasons, was the team’s emotional and vocal leader on the court. He was always communicating with his teammates on defense, in timeouts and during dead ball situations. This year, he was the lone senior on the roster.
“I’m extremely thankful for the classes of seniors when I was a [first-year] and sophomore,” Savage said. “They were all really great leaders that showed me the importance of camaraderie and bonding off the court, and that really helped me blossom into the leader that I became.”
On a team this season with numerous key underclassmen contributors including rising sophomore guard Dylan Thoerner, rising junior guard Carson Cohen and rising junior guard Tyler Aronson, Savage became the elder statesman that the players he looked up to as a first-year and sophomore were for him.
In addition to his work on the basketball court, Savage provided some students with their introduction to Tufts through his work as a tour guide. Savage applied to become a tour guide the second semester of his first year and served as a full-time tour guide his sophomore, junior and senior years.
“I did the most growing as a person through the tour guide program,” Savage said. “It was great because it allowed me to work on my public speaking while talking about the school I love and helping out prospective students. I knew what it was like to be in their shoes so I felt like I could help deliver the message that I would have wanted if I was them.”
In his final basketball season with the Jumbos this past winter, Savage saw much of his and his teammates’ hard work pay off. The men’s basketball team won its first eight NESCAC games, en-route to the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament.
“We entered every game with a swagger because of Eric Savage,” Sheldon said.
That swagger was on full display throughout the postseason. Tufts dispatched Hamilton and Amherst in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, setting up a championship clash with Colby on March 1. With Tufts trailing by three and seconds remaining in the championship game, Savage put the madness in March by sinking a 35-foot prayer to force overtime. The Jumbos eventually won the thriller in double overtime behind Savage’s 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
It was the first NESCAC championship in program history and marked an end to the “almosts” in Savage’s basketball career. In the three NESCAC tournament games, Savage shot 46.2% from the field, averaging 20.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game.
The NESCAC championship clinched the Jumbos an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic dashed the Jumbos’ chance to continue competing for a national title. Still, the postseason run at Cousens is one that Savage will always cherish.
“That five-game win streak we had in the playoffs was phenomenal. I created lifelong memories with my friends while winning extremely important games,” Savage said. “It was a culmination of a ton of hard work and time that we all put in. To be able to have that sort of elation and cut down the nets on our home court was awesome.”
Savage, an economics major with minors in finance and entrepreneurial studies, will soon begin working in Cambridge as a market access strategy consultant at IQVIA. As for basketball, Savage knows the sport will continue to play a role in his life but isn’t quite sure at what capacity.
And his advice to an up-and-coming first-year player? “Play your heart out, play to win and enjoy it while it lasts.”