Former men’s basketball player Alex Yoh ‘12, who often got struck with the “injury bug” during his Emerson career, said his time on the Lions’ bench was “totally wholesome” while alongside former assistant coach Bruce Seals, who died on Dec. 15 at 67.
“I got to spend the better part of my career sitting directly next to Coach Seals for every game,” said Yoh. “Coach Seals counted me as a part of what was happening, and there were times where he was coaching me just as hard as he was coaching people that were playing in the game. He was constantly viewing and talking through the game in a way that was aimed at making me better, whether that meant I was going to be back on the court and a better player, or a better coach myself, or a better teammate, or a better professional after school.”
Seals, the self-proclaimed “anchor” of the team, served as an assistant coach for the Lions under head coach Hank Smith for 17 years from 1994 to 2011.
Athletic Director Patricia Nicol paid respects to Seals in a statement on the Emerson Athletics website the day after his death.
“We were saddened to hear of the loss of Bruce Seals,” Nicol said. “Bruce was a great coach for Emerson for 17 years, making an impact on countless student-athletes over his time here. His presence was felt in both the Emerson community and Boston community and will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”
Before arriving at Emerson, the New Orleans native born on June 18, 1953 played college basketball at Xavier University of Louisiana. The 6’8” forward holds the school record for most blocked shots in a single game (12), most rebounds in a single season (370), and most rebounds per game (13), according to NOLA.com. He was a first-round pick for the Utah Stars of the defunct American Basketball Association in 1973 and a second-round draft pick in the 1975 NBA Draft, who went on to play three seasons with the Seattle Supersonics and three seasons overseas professionally. Seals was inducted into the Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Seals has earned Boston sports legend status for his integral role in the lives of thousands of local youth at the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, where he served as director from 1991 until his death. He began his 30-year career there after he and his wife settled in Boston in 1990.
The Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester paid tribute to Seals in an Instagram post on Dec. 15.
“Bruce’s passing was unexpected and leaves us with a hole in our life and in our hearts that will never be filled,” the statement read. “He was a friend, a role model and a mentor to so many of our members. He will be missed more than words can say. Rest In Peace to our dear friend and colleague.”
Yoh, who played under Seals on the men’s basketball team from 2008 to 2011, said Seals was heavily admired as a coach by his players.
“Every time he walked into the gym for a practice or a game, we would clap as a team and kind of hoot and holler “It’s Coach Seals!’,” Yoh said. “We just enjoyed so much being around him, whether it was his storytelling, or how he really broke the game down so simply for us.”
He also recalled how knowledgeable Seals was as a coach.
“He always knew exactly how to coach the individual, whether that meant being tough on someone to motivate or putting his arm around someone who might be having a tough practice or a tough game,” Yoh said. “He was always teaching and looking at the game with a perspective that he was going to make each guy on the team as good as they could be and as knowledgeable about the game of basketball as they could be.”
Yoh credited Seals’ coaching expertise to his basketball experience, in which “it’s well documented that he excelled at every level of the game.”
“I was always in awe of his experience and the way he conveyed that experience to coach us,” said Yoh. “There’s a lot of people who have basketball experience, but his translation of what he did helped us be better players, a better teammate, and was one of his best qualities as a coach.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also expressed his condolences in a Tweet on Dec. 15.
“The passing of Bruce Seals is a devastating loss for so many Bostonians and thousands of kids from the @BGCDorchester,” Walsh said. “Bruce was truly a legend on and off the court and he will be dearly missed.”
Yoh said the thing he wants people to remember most about Seals is his “big heart.”
“Whether it was being tough on us or being comforting in the tough times, you just really loved being around him,” Yoh said. “He really cared about not only how good of players we could become, but really how good of teammates we could be to each other. The theme throughout my time there was that we were going to play with a ton of heart, and that started and ended with Coach Seals.”
Seals is survived by his son, Bruce Jr., and daughter, Denitra.