Senior staff writer
Joey Brunk knows who he is.
“You have to fall in love with being a work in progress,” said the Butler University basketball player while recalling the words of his late father, Joe Brunk. “That’s who I am and have been all my life: a work in progress.”
At 6-11, 240 pounds, his true foundation is his family, faith and future, plus the heart-tugging memories of his dad, who died of brain cancer in April 2017.
Joey’s family consists of mom Helen and little brother Johnny, a freshman at Roncalli, and a slew of relatives on the Southside. This close-knit family lived with Joe’s courageous battle against glioblastoma, an aggressive cancerous-type of brain tumor.
Joey spent all the time he could with his father and was praised for it by former Butler coach Chris Holtmann, who stated, “The courage that he displayed mirrored the courage that his father showed during his battle with a devastating disease and prognosis.”
Joe was a 1978 Southport High School graduate and Hanover basketball standout who was a friend and mentor to Joey.
Joey remembered their biggest hug in 2016 within seconds after Southport defeated Ben Davis 60-57 for the sectional championship during his senior year. He wore his dad’s No. 50.
“The horn goes off to end the game and they put the rope up to keep spectators from going onto the floor,” he said. “My dad was sitting in the front row. I stepped over the rope and we gave each other a hug. Nothing was said. It was the culmination of growing up in Southport and wanting this more than anything; all the work that went into it – it was a wonderful emotion for me to think of it now and how powerful it was.”
In an interview after the Georgetown-Butler game last week, Joey also recalled three more outstanding memories at Southport with his dad.
When Joey was in elementary school they went to his first high school basketball game together at Southport Fieldhouse on Thanksgiving Eve. They sat on the top row near the concession stand so Joey would be close to snacks and would not miss much of the action.
During the summer before his senior year, Joey and his dad were working out at Southport. Joey, a southpaw, was trying to shoot with his right hand. At one point his dad told him that he would be better off shooting with his left hand if he couldn’t shoot any better than that with his right.
And then throughout Joey’s senior year they worked out as early as 6 a.m. on school days so Joey could improve his basketball abilities, which led to being named an Indiana All-Star team and a scholarship at Butler.
Brunk truly is Johnny’s “big brother.” Helen was at Roncalli’s 56-44 win over Franklin Feb. 13, to see Johnny play, the same night that Butler lost to Georgetown 87-83.
“I’m always going to be here for him,” said Brunk, an elementary education major. “The courage my brother shows; at 16 he had to deal with it (father’s death). He had a lot of burden; it’s harder on him. The strength of my mom and the courage of my brother really shows. We have grown stronger in our faith.
“This (Butler) has been a good fit. I wanted to be close to home with family and my younger brother.”
Brunk played in seven games as a first-year Bulldog before taking time to be with his ailing father. He was granted a hardship waiver and will have three more years of eligibility after this season.
He has played sparingly in 18 games this season with a career-high eight rebounds and season-high six points against Western Illinois.
Brunk and 6-10 freshman Nate Fowler (Cincinnati Moeller) are the only Bulldogs taller than 6-8 starter Tyler Wideman, the Big East’s leader in field goal percentage.
Brunk easily fits the role as the consummate teammate. “These are my ‘bothers,’ ” he reflected. “We spend a lot of hours together, early morning and late nights. I want to see them succeed and flourish. My expectation is to be there for them because they would do the same for me.”
He has toured and played basketball with Butler in Spain.
“I’ve been places I never thought I would go, and I’ve had life experiences that I never expected. I’m going to go with the flow, make the best of it, and embrace it.”
The Bulldogs’ regular season ends March 3 at Seton Hall with the Big East Tournament March 7-10 at Madison Square Garden.