Last year, Xavier reaped the benefits of having a skilled back to the basket center as senior Matt Stainbrook led the Musketeers on a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament. While the coaching staff wants to upgrade the roster’s athleticism, finding another big man that the offense can run through in the post is something Chris Mack and his staff are interested in for the 2016 class.
Southport High School’s (IN) Joey Brunk is one of the class’ most polished low-post scorers, and one of the Xavier coaching staff’s top priorities on the recruiting trail. The 6-foot-9, 230-pounder has the necessary size, strength and skill sought for high-major big men, but what sets him apart from other top talents is his footwork.
“My footwork is something that I’ve worked on since we got our first basketball goal in our backyard,” Brunk said. “I’ve always been big and played in the post, so that’s something I’ve always worked on. I think a big thing is that I’ve gotten stronger, and my confidence has improved.”
While many young players are hurried when they catch the ball in the post, Brunk is patient as he surveys the court first and uses the defender’s positioning in his favor when he makes his move. Most big men need to get to a comfortable spot on the court or need to be positioned properly for a go-to move, but he has a wide variety of pivots, fakes and finishes that he’s comfortable using from anywhere.
“I’ve worked with a lot of different great coaches and trainers, and learned a lot of great stuff from a lot of different people,” he said. “I’m just trying to take it all in and trying to use it. I still have a long way to go with all of that.”
Brunk developed his eclectic style by watching other players and incorporating little pieces from their game into his. He familiarized himself with these moves and mastered many of them while batting with his younger brother in the backyard.
“We always play where I get two dribbles from the 3-point line, so I have to do something out there and get pretty creative. I can’t just take him in the post because it’d be unfair,” he said. “I remember watching Tyler Zeller when he was at North Carolina, he always had that baseline right hand jump hook so I’d go out in my backyard and practice that. Everyone loves the Dirk one-foot fadeaway. I just try to take a little of everything if I can. Most often it’s just stuff I do in my yard, but as you get comfortable with those moves you start doing them in the games as well.”
When it comes to his recruitment, Brunk said he’s been receiving steady interest from some big-time programs.
“Illinois has jumped in and just offered recently,” he said. “Butler, Xavier, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State and Oklahama, those are the big ones.”
Xavier assistant Travis Steele has had a relationship with Brunk for a while now, and the big man said that his bond with Steele is strong. Though, he is having an interesting experience being recruited by Steele and Xavier’s staff as well as Steele’s stepbrother John Groce at Illinois.
“I talk to Coach Steele all the time. He texts me before the games and tells me good luck,” Brunk said. “There are a lot of similarities between Coach Groce and Coach Steele at Xavier with them being half-brothers. You can hear it in their voices. There’s a similarity in the way they say things.”
Currently the big man doesn’t have any visits planned, but he plans to set some up in the near future when he has the time.
“It’d be nice to have my decision made by (signing day), but I’m still not set on when I’m going to decide.”