Looking back, moving forward

SHS alum reflects on the path that led him on his journey


Kelsey Jones

Joey Brunk looks for an opening in the defense against the University of Iowa on Feb. 13. Indiana University won with a final score of 89-77.

Joey Brunk still remembers the very spot in the historic SHS Fieldhouse where his journey began. 

He and his dad, Joe, would sit two rows from the top, right in front of the concession stand closest to the pool as they watched basketball games throughout Brunk’s childhood. 

It was on the court of the Fieldhouse and the halls of SHS where Brunk’s journey began to take shape. After transferring from Park Tudor High School, he arrived in 2013 as a lanky 6-foot-8 sophomore.

“Southport was big in my development,” Brunk said. “I was surrounded by a lot of really good people that didn’t just mold me as a basketball player, but as a person.”

His journey took off after graduating in 2016. It carried him to Butler University, where he stayed for three years. Now, his journey has landed him at Indiana University, but it took some unexpected turns along the way that transformed Brunk into the person he is today.


For Brunk, the fact that he played on the court where his dad played his high school ball makes his memories of the Fieldhouse resonate even more.

Caleb Carrasquillo
Brunk goes up for a layup against an Evansville Reitz player on Feb. 28, 2015

“I think it’s the best gym in Indiana as far as high school basketball goes,” Brunk said. “I don’t think there’s really even a comparison.”

After moving from a spectator in the stands to playing on the court, Brunk experienced many moments that defined his time at SHS.

One such moment was a home game against Evansville Reitz during his junior year, when both teams were ranked among the top three in the state. SHS won the game, 88-80, and Brunk ended the game with 24 points and 15 rebounds in front of a packed Fieldhouse.

“That was a pretty incredible deal,” Brunk said.

Winning the regional tournament on his home court in his senior year was another moment Brunk felt shaped his career. However, one memory stands out to Brunk more than the others, occurring just minutes after winning the sectional tournament his senior year.

“The three minutes after (winning), we all were in line to cut the net,” Brunk said. “I had a second with my dad that was really special because of all the early mornings he had been a part of.”

Kyle Simpson, the former SHS head basketball coach, says Brunk found his way into a leadership role by his senior year in high school. 

“(Brunk) worked really hard and set a good example for the younger players,” Simpson said.

Simpson had high expectations for Brunk from the moment he met him.

“I always felt when he left Southport, he was going to leave his mark, an unbelievable legacy,” Simpson said.

The numbers show Brunk was on his way to do exactly that. During his senior year, Brunk was the second-ranked recruit in his class in Indiana, according to ESPN, and averaged over 18 points a game.

But as strong as he was on the court, he was also a leader in the classroom, says social studies teacher Dan Jones, who says he often led class discussions and always completed his work. Jones’s relationship with Brunk was driven by the time they spent in the classroom together and not Brunk’s ability on the court.

“Joey became kind of a big deal, but that never infiltrated our world academically, and he was humble,” Jones said.

In Jones’s eyes, Brunk rose to many difficult challenges that most people never have to face, and he did it with a tough attitude and great courage.

“I was teaching a kid who in some ways was more mature than I am,” Jones said.


In the summer before his senior year, Brunk committed to continue his basketball career at Butler University, largely due to the fact that it was close to home. Brunk played just seven games before he was faced with a significant challenge. His father was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer in November of Brunk’s freshman year.

To Brunk, family means everything. So as his father battled glioblastoma for six months, Brunk commuted from Butler back to his home every day in order to be with his family. For Brunk, a typical day during this time began with his getting up early, going through his classes, working out with the Butler team and returning home to spend time with dad. His father later passed away in April 2017.

Because of his father’s death, Brunk ended up being a redshirt freshman his first year, meaning he didn’t play many games, so he was able to regain a year of eligibility. Brunk would have been able to spend more time with his family without the extra load of basketball.

“Trying to play college basketball three months after your dad died is a challenge,” Brunk said. “There is no guidebook written for how you do that.”

Despite the challenge of losing his father, Brunk has been able to find a bright side to it all within the years after his passing.

“It makes you reevaluate what’s important,” Brunk said. “I tell the people I love that I love them a little more than I used to.”

To Brunk, one of the biggest challenges he faced was trying to find motivation to get back on the court. But, even with this difficulty, Brunk was able to play his first full season at Butler in 2018. 

Brunk says that a defining moment from Butler was playing in his first game.

“It’s like the realization of a dream… I still get that feeling every time I run out for a jump ball,” Brunk said.

In Brunk’s first full season at Butler he

Photo contributed by Joey Brunk.

averaged only 2 points and 1 rebound in the 20 games he played. Last year, in what proved to be his last season at Butler, Brunk averaged 8 points a game and 4 rebounds, with his improvement earning him 13 starts in 33 games played.

Brunk graduated from Butler in three years, but still had two years of eligibility. He chose to transfer to Indiana University to continue his career, a decision based off of what he felt would be best for himself and his future.

“Indiana (University) speaks for itself, this is an incredible place…” Brunk said. “It was just kind of perfect the way it all played out.”


Clif Marshall, IU’s Director of Athletic Performance for Men’s Basketball, believes Brunk has gone above and beyond his expectations for his first year. Marshall has seen Brunk become a leader when it comes to a positive attitude and working hard every day.

“He’s very consistent,” Marshall said. “I think our other players have noticed that and fed off that.”

Kelsey Jones
Attempting a three-point shot, Brunk warms up before the game against Iowa.

Brunk is 27 games into his first season at IU, and he has helped lead the team to a 18-9 record, averaging just over 7 points and 5 rebounds a game.

A defining moment of his career at IU is yet to come, Brunk says, but he still has his junior year to finish out and another season after that. He is ultimately looking to compete in the NCAA tournament in March.

With his transfer to IU, Brunk has now played at three historic basketball arenas in Indiana.

“I’ve had a pretty good draw of playing at Southport Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and now here at Assembly Hall. I don’t think you could pick three better,” Brunk said. “I get a different feeling every time I walk into each one respectively… It’s pretty neat that my journey has intertwined with all three of them.”


Despite the fact that Brunk is a starter for a Big Ten basketball team, people believe he is the same person he’s always been. Johnny Brunk, a junior at SHS and Brunk’s younger brother, believes Brunk’s personality hasn’t changed.

“Joey has always been the person he is now, but his personality is shining through to everyone else,” Johnny said.

Brunk’s connection to the SHS community extends past his brother and continues onto teachers, coaches and even friends he met at SHS. He and his best friend, SHS alum Nick Holland, have remained close over the last seven years and even live together at IU. According to Holland, all the division one basketball offers Brunk received didn’t affect his personality.

“I don’t think he’s changed at all…” Holland said. “Even when he got to Butler (University), he was the same person.”

To Brunk, Holland means as much as family. They have been tight ever since they sat next to each other in Precalculus Brunk’s sophomore year. 

“He couldn’t be a better friend, and I think that’s an important part of my Southport deal,” Brunk said.

Jordin Baker
Brunk holds a basketball during an interview with The Journal at Assembly Hall.

Brunk and Simpson, his former SHS coach, have still managed to stay in contact over the years. Simpson says he and Brunk call, text and even find time to meet up for dinner in Bloomington. Brunk says he will always appreciate those from SHS who never used his basketball abilities as the only way to define him.

“Jones and (English teacher Sam) Hanley, it seems when they talk to me, we never talk about basketball,” Brunk said. “For me, that means a lot.”

There is still some uncertainty in what Brunk’s future holds. But Brunk has many different paths he believes he could follow. Brunk has considered going to law school after receiving his master’s degree in recreation administration at IU, but his ultimate goal is to continue his career playing professionally wherever in the world that may be.

“I want to continue to live that dream I have had my whole life,” Brunk said.