Joey Brunk comes 'full circle' in committing to Ohio State, Chris Holtmann

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Indiana's Joey Brunk celebrates after making a basket against Minnesota on March 4, 2020. Brunk averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds while starting 31 of 32 games in 2019-20, but missed last season with a back injury.

The roles would morph over time, but Chris Holtmann never passed off his recruitment of Joey Brunk.

It started when Brunk was roughly 16 years old and the Indianapolis native was being recruited by Holtmann, who at the time was a newly hired assistant coach at nearby Butler. From there, Holtmann was elevated to interim coach for the 2014-15 season and, soon, to full-time head coach.

Throughout, Holtmann continued his recruitment of Brunk. Eventually, it led to Brunk signing with the Bulldogs, where he played his freshman season for Holtmann. And now, five years later, it has led Brunk to Ohio State, where he will finish out his college career playing his final year for the first coach to sign him.

“Who would’ve saw this coming, especially when I was 16 or 17 years old?” Brunk said Sunday. “I would’ve said you’re crazy. It’s been a pretty interesting and different path, but we made it here so I’m looking forward to it.”

Brunk announced his commitment to the Buckeyes on Saturday evening via social media. He entered the transfer portal earlier in the week and was quickly contacted by Holtmann, who has been in pursuit of a legitimate post presence to bolster the Ohio State roster.

Once the two started talking, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Brunk didn’t take long to make a decision.

“He’s always been someone that I’ve been able to go to for advice and I’ve called when I’ve had to make decisions,” Brunk said. “He’s always been in my corner. Our relationship really meant a lot. I wanted to bring it full circle.”

A true low-post presence who describes himself on Twitter as “Matthew McConaughey with a baby hook," Brunk is known primarily for his ability as a post defender and scorer as well as a rebounder. In four seasons, he has averaged 5.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in four active seasons while never averaging more than 20 minutes per game.

Three of those seasons were at Butler, two of them while Holtmann was at Ohio State. He then transferred to Indiana following the 2018-19 season and posted his most productive season, averaging 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds while starting 31 of 32 games in 2019-20.

A back injury robbed him of the entirety of the 2020-21 season. Now fully recovered, he is eligible to play for the Buckeyes because the NCAA has granted all players from the 2020-21 season a free year of eligibility.

“It was difficult,” he said of the injury. “It’s not something that I had really ever had in my career, that long of an issue. I think going into that the worst I’d done was sprain an ankle.”

Brunk’s addition gives the Buckeyes six players entering at least their fifth season of college basketball and joins Seth Towns as the most-experienced players on the roster entering their sixth seasons. Ohio State will have eight players classified as seniors. Brunk is finishing earning his Master’s degree in recreation administration and is planning to eventually enroll in law school.

As a center, Brunk will team with sophomore Zed Key to occupy the paint and, should he return after entering the NBA draft process, allow junior E.J. Liddell to play exclusively at power forward. His presence will also lessen the load on Kyle Young, who will be a fifth-year senior who is also taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility.

Young had initially committed to Holtmann at Butler before following him to Ohio State. Brunk helped recruit him, and the two spoke Saturday night about the opportunity to finally play together.

“I want to help us win games,” Brunk said. “I want to contribute through my passion and enthusiasm. I want to help and provide some energy and some leadership and find however I can contribute. We’ll see a little bit more once I get to campus and get going with everything.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy