BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Matthew McConaughey look is gone. The mustache and beard have given way to a hint of a 5 o’clock shadow. The flowing locks which once generated best-hair-in-basketball buzz are now clean-cut professional.
Joey Brunk has the look of a man on a Cream ‘n Crimson basketball mission. A three-year run at Butler steeled him for this. The fact that he’s 6-11 with a battle-in-the paint mentality is a graduate-transfer plus for an Indiana team that will need that and more in its drive to return to NCAA tourney relevance.
Brunk can deliver more, starting with leadership.
“It was something we talked about when I was being recruited,” he says. “It’s a little bit of my personality. I don’t have any problem speaking up.”
Coach Archie Miller doesn’t have any problem with Brunk not having a problem. Finding players who lead by word and deed is hard in this high-tech era when so many young athletes communicate by text or social media.
Brunk can handle that burden, as well as on-court production.
“Joey is a college player who has competed at a high level,” Miller says. “He knows what it’s like in terms of effort.”
The players have noticed.
“He is a leader on and off the court,” center De’Ron Davis says. “He brings a lot of energy. He won the summer award for being a warrior. He can be the loud voice for us.”
It’s a voice that comes from Cream ‘n Crimson history. Brunk says he grew up watching the Hoosiers.
“I remember watching the Cody Zeller teams with Jordy Hulls and Victor Oladipo. Those teams really stick out for me. I played AAU ball with J.C. Hulls (Jordan’s father) coaching.
“I had a lot of ties to Indiana.”
And if those ties improve Hoosier shooting – Brunk shot 61.7 percent from the field last season – all the better.
Miller has called Brunk “an experienced frontcourt player who has the size and heart to compete effectively in the Big Ten. He’s a strong high-percentage shooter who is an outstanding passer. He’s someone we can play through down low.”
Brunk brings an “old soul” attitude to the locker room, from his choice of music (“I grew up listening to a lot of old music with my parents. I have a soft spot for that”) to his top-5 NBA player list (Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon)
“I did catch a little bit of grief for not including Michael Jordan,” Brunk says with a smile.
One possible reason for the oversight – lots of watching YouTube clips of Bird and Kevin McHale from their Boston Celtics days.
Brunk’s old-school approach has deep family roots. His father, Joe, was an NAIA All-American at Hanover University in southern Indiana. They spent countless hours honing his game.
The result -- an all-state career at Southport High School on the south side of Marion County that culminated in sectional and regional titles in 2016, something the Cardinals hadn’t achieved since 1990. Brunk averaged 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior and was a finalist for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.
But perhaps Brunk’s biggest contribution was in the won-loss record. Southport went 1-19 in Brunk’s first season. It won 60 games in his last three.
The result -- national recruiting acclaim as a four-star prospect and a scholarship to Butler.
Then came tragedy.
Joe Brunk’s death from brain cancer in April of 2017 was a devastating blow. The NCAA granted the younger Brunk a hardship waiver in his Butler freshman season as he and his family dealt with the tragedy.
Brunk returned to action the next year, and averaged 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 60 games at Butler, including 13 starts. Last season he averaged 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. That included an eight-point, five-rebound off-the-bench effort against IU in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
He doesn’t want to talk much about that, or life as a Bulldog.
“I had a great three years there, but that chapter of my life is over. This is a new chapter.”
One that will last two seasons rather than the typical graduate transfer of one. He will have time to savor what being a Hoosier means.
“It’s a great chance to have two years here,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be forced. There can be a natural progression. I really get to be part of Indiana.”
That includes getting fully immersed in strength coach Clif Marshall’s program.
“I had a great offseason with Coach Clif in the weight room,” Brunk says. “We laid out some goals. I was able to work on them every day. I changed my diet a little bit. That really helped.
“On the court, I’m running better, moving better.”
That bodes well for the Hoosiers. Brunk will provide inside muscle along with the 6-10, 255-pound Davis; 6-9, 245-pound Trayce Jackson-Davis; 6-8, 235-pound Race Thompson and 6-7, 230-pound Justin Smith.
It’s an inside foundation that could generate plenty of outside offensive opportunities. That’s crucial to IU prospects.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity,” Brunk says. “We’ve put in a lot of time and effort. I’m comfortable letting the chips fall where they may.”
Those chips will get public visibility on Oct. 29, when IU hosts Gannon in its only exhibition game.
“I knew this was a great group of guys,” Brunk says. “They were very talented. It’s a great opportunity to be part of that.”