Joey Brunk wasn’t ready for closure yet.
Indiana’s fifth-year senior center hasn’t played and apparently won’t play in a basketball game this season. He hasn’t decided yet if he wants to return to Indiana to play next season. But he isn’t sure that he won’t, and he didn’t participate in Senior Day festivities surrounding Indiana’s loss at home against Michigan on Saturday because he felt like that would be sending the message that he was in fact finished.
“I chose not to participate because I felt if I participated, that’s kind of a closure deal for myself, how I felt,” Brunk said. “My decision wasn’t really set in stone. And on the other end, that day was about Al (Durham) and Cooper (Bybee) and what they’ve done and what they’ve contributed. I wanted to celebrate them and what they’ve done for Indiana.”
Brunk said he does want to play basketball as long as he can. Whether he will stay for a sixth year of college — made possible because the 2020-21 season doesn’t count against anyone’s eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic — will be determined sometime this offseason, he said.
“As far as next year goes, I’ve thought a little bit about it,” Brunk said. “That’s definitely going to be a conversation that I’ll have with coach (Archie) Miller, kind of in depth and figure out what’s best. My focus has been trying to get back healthy now and try to help us win and in any way possible. When the timing is right, I’ll have those conversations.”
Brunk clarified that when he says he wants to try to help Indiana win, he’s not suggesting that it will be possible for him to do that on the court at any point this season regardless of how far the Hoosiers might advance. He hasn’t played because of a disc issue in his back he said was caused by wear and tear for which he had surgery on Dec. 30. Though he has been seen throwing passes to teammates in warm-ups before games, he said his activity is still very limited.
“I’ve been able to lift weights with coach Cliff (Marshall),” Brunk said. “We’ve been real selective on what I can and can’t do. I’ve been running on an underwater treadmill every day with Timmy G (athletic trainer Tim Garl) and following his rehab plan. Just kinda slowly trying to work my way into things. We have to be patient with everything going on and be mindful that I don’t rush back into anything.”
Brunk’s conversations with Miller will certainly include a number of factors, one being how he will fit with next year’s roster. The Hoosiers could have used the 6-foot-11, 255-pounder this season to provide frontcourt depth behind forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson. Last season, Brunk averaged 19.5 minutes per game with 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Without him, the load on the Hoosiers’ starting big men has been heavy. Jackson-Davis is third in the Big Ten and first among frontcourt players with 34.4 minutes per game and Thompson is averaging 28.8 per game. The Hoosiers don’t have an option other than those two to handle the center position and Brunk could have provided that. The Hoosiers will have more depth next year in the middle with the addition of 6-9, 225-pound big man Logan Duncomb, but they could also lose Jackson-Davis to the NBA draft.
If Brunk returns he will have to figure out what to do with himself academically. He came to Indiana as a graduate transfer, having earned his bachelor’s degree at Butler. He said he expects to finish a master’s at Indiana in the spring and he’ll have to find an area to study toward another one in a sixth college year.
“I have to figure out academically a program,” Brunk said. “I have a lot of good help there. But that’s some conversations that I’ll have to have this spring when everything calms down.”
Until then, he’s trying to provide emotional spark to an Indiana team that needs it heading into the final week of the regular season. The Hoosiers are 12-12 overall and 7-10 in the Big Ten and appear to be on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game at Michigan State.
“Overall, I try to be an encouraging voice,” Brunk said. “Try to make sure we’re all on the same page. … I try to look at things from the bench and say, if I would get in the game what could I do and see if I can help the guys in any way. Try to encourage and be a positive voice.”
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