There’s still 90 minutes until tipoff. Fans are just settling into their seats. A few Hoosiers are out early to warmup, led by Joey Brunk. This isn’t unusual. Brunk is almost always one of the first Hoosiers on the court, getting extra work whenever he can. The crowd’s reaction was new.
Brunk went up and under on one of the team managers.
“There we go, Mr. Fundamental,” someone yelled from the crowd.
Brunk shows off a nice spin move and finish.
“Keep workin’ Joey,” someone else yelled.
Brunk fits right in in Bloomington.
It took a while. Brunk started the season as a grad transfer who was still getting acclimated with the offense, struggling to make his voice heard in an explosive Indiana offense. At Butler, he was a role player, playing 10-15 minutes off the bench to spell the starters or to relieve foul trouble. His role changed quickly at Indiana, and he had his biggest moment of the season Thursday night against Michigan State.
With exactly one minute left, Rob Phinisee threw up a prayer. With just two seconds on the shot clock, Brunk corralled the rebound, twisted his body and kissed it off the glass and in to put Indiana up 65-62. Brunk finished with 14 points and six rebounds in the Hoosiers’ 67-63 win over No. 11 Michigan State.
“Joey’s second shot late in the game,” Archie Miller said. “Big of a play as you’re going to make.”
There were questions in the preseason about whether Brunk would get the starting job right away or if he would play behind De’Ron Davis for a little while. Fans knew he was from Butler, but most people didn’t know much about Brunk or the way he plays the game of basketball. Now he’s a fan favorite, and the player Miller has been searching for the past three years.
Juwan Morgan was that guy the past two seasons, but he was recruited by Tom Crean. No, Brunk wasn’t initially recruited by Miller, but after he decided to transfer, that was Miller’s opportunity to recruit Brunk, the player he needed in his offense.
It’s not just his numbers on the court. It’s his leadership, his toughness, his gritty attitude. There’s a lot of Butler in Brunk, but there’s even more Indiana in him.
“It’s not measurable what Joe has meant to us,” Miller said. “His everyday approach is something as a coach, you marvel at the work ethic and there’s no fake work ethic.”
“There’s no fake work ethic…you never question his effort.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 24, 2020
What defined the players of the Bobby Knight days? Hard-nosed defense and toughness. I think Knight would have loved to coach Joey Brunk.
The Indiana fans sure love having him. He gets a nice ovation almost anytime he leaves the floor or enters the game. People have the fancy nickname of “Mr. Fundamental” for the 6-foot-10 center from Indianapolis. And in games against elite big men, Kaleb Wesson and Xavier Tillman, Brunk has won the battle.
“He was able to get 14 [points] and six [rebounds] tonight, and he earned them all,” Miller said.
Early on, it wasn’t so easy for Brunk. Against Florida State, he scored just four points and added only three rebounds. He followed that up with only two points at Wisconsin. Since the Notre Dame game (his past eight games), Brunk is averaging 9.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He had his first double-double against Rutgers, and his first national television standout performance against Michigan State.
“He’s improved as much as any player I’ve ever been around from month to month,” Miller said. “He has absolutely brought us production that, you know, it just means the world to have that type of size, that ability level.”
No one will ever question Brunk’s work ethic. Trayce Jackson-Davis said he’s in the gym constantly and called him an “energy giver.” There are few fanbases that appreciate hustle and effort more than Indiana’s. That’s why Brunk is exactly what Miller needed.
So much has been made of Miller’s coaching style and whether it’s working or not. As much as a coach needs marquee wins to validate his work, he also needs players to embody what he wants his team to look like. That’s exactly what Brunk does.
Miller wants toughness, that’s Brunk. Miller wants rebounding, that’s Brunk. Miller wants defensive awareness, that’s Brunk. The list goes on and on.
He may not cross any one over or hit the big step-back three, but Brunk isn’t going to let someone out-hustle him, and Hoosier fans love him for that.
After the game, I received a text from my dad, a long-time Hoosier fan.
“Brunk for president!”