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Joey Brunk is learning a new system on a familiar floor



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Redshirt junior Joey Brunk Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

He was the last player to come through the door carved out of the LED screen at the north end of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. He watched his teammates come out to rap songs, jumping down the ramp and dancing at mid-court. 

But that isn’t him. 

Junior center Joey Brunk has called himself an old soul. It showed in his entrance and his music choice. 

Without the giddy energy of some of his teammates, Brunk jogged down the ramp and to center court. The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” boomed across the arena.

He didn’t dance. Instead he stood at the center of the floor. He held one arm up and waved to the crowd. He took it all in. But this wasn’t his first Hoosier Hysteria — it was just a different perspective. 

Brunk posted a picture of himself and his brother on Twitter the day before Hoosier Hysteria. The photo was from 2013, with Brunk sitting on the wooden bleachers behind the basket. He’d been to Hoosier Hysteria a few times growing up. He was in Assembly Hall when Christian Watford hit a game-winning three and fans stormed the floor as IU beat No. 1 University of Kentucky.

Brunk went to Southport High School, just south of Indianapolis. Just 44 miles from Assembly Hall. He had an offer from IU per 247Sports, where he was ranked 107th overall, but committed to Butler University. 

He didn’t start a game in his first two seasons, only playing 27 in total. Last year, Brunk started 13 games and played in 33. He had eight points and five rebounds in a Crossroads Classic loss to IU last season. 

And when he put his name in the transfer portal following the season, IU head coach Archie Miller was one of the first to reach out. Brunk felt comfortable, he chose to come to the school he’d spent years watching. 

After watching Hoosier Hysteria from the stands for years, he was now on the other side. He was on the floor getting to be a part of the team he had used to watch. He got his own pair of candy-striped pants. He was officially a Hoosier. 

Brunk has started all four games since arriving at IU. He’s averaging 17.3 minutes per game, which is less than he had in his 2018-19 season at Butler. He's scored 7.6 points and grabbed four rebounds per game thus far.

His numbers aren’t striking yet. But his role has shifted from what it was a year ago. 

Redshirt junior Joey Brunk Colin Kulpa Buy Photos

“It's been a smooth transition,” Brunk said in October. “We have a great locker room full of guys and everybody wants to learn, grow, so kind of makes that whole process pretty easy. We can talk and, 'Hey, this is what I'm seeing, this is what I'm seeing you can do,' kind of bouncing ideas off each other. It's been a good process.”

He’s learning an entirely new system, and immediately was thrust into an important role. With injuries to key returners like senior guard Devonte Green and sophomore guard Rob Phinisee, Brunk is one of three newcomers in the starting lineup. The other two are freshmen. Of course, there have been some growing pains.

“I think Joey feeling himself out a little bit offensively early, was a little uncertain how to attack,” Miller said after IU’s win over Western Illinois. “It got more comfortable as the game goes and I think as the games continue to play, he'll get more experience level with what we're doing. He hasn't played with any of these guys before, so it's the first time.”

But he immediately came in and had an influence. That’s why he won a week in the gold jersey during practice and a spot in the starting lineup with IU’s exhibition against Gannon University. 

“The team that started the game tonight earned it, without question, through 21 practices and a scrimmage game. Joey definitely earned a role starting,” Miller said after the Gannon game. 

He hasn’t lost that job since. 

Brunk brings depth to IU’s front court. Miller is able to stash senior center De’Ron Davis and manage his load. IU has six big men averaging more than 16 minutes per game. All six of those forwards are among IU’s top eight scorers thus far. All are averaging at least six points per game, led by junior forward Justin Smith’s 16.3. 

“I think that would make it maybe hard to game plan because there's so many different guys that have the potential to hurt you and have a big effect on the game,” Brunk said Friday. “So, I think that's definitely something that's going to play to our advantage. I mean, college basketball is a long season, and the deeper we are, the better we are, the stronger we are.”

Brunk is still working to fit his way in. He’s only played four competitive games as a Hoosier. He hasn’t been perfect. He’s still learning to play for Miller. 

But even for everything that’s new, he’s learning it all on the floor he knows quite well.

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