What Joey Brunk’s Transfer Means for the 2021-22 Ohio State Basketball Team

Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn’t just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?

By the end of last week, Ohio State was supposed to know whether or not it would land five-star 7-footer Efton Reid.

For three years, head coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon chased after him. For well over a year, it appeared as though they were a frontrunner, if not the frontrunner, to land Reid. He was supposed to make his college decision at some point on Thursday. That never happened.

For whatever reason, Reid postponed his decision. Will Wade’s LSU came hard-charging in the past few weeks, and Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State managed to unexpectedly wedge its way into the conversation in the final week. All of a sudden, they were right at the forefront of his recruitment along with Ohio State and Pittsburgh, which had long been rumored as another option.

On Saturday night, the Buckeyes effectively ended their pursuit of Reid by landing another big man: Joey Brunk.

The sixth-year senior who spent three years at Butler, then two at Indiana, will end his collegiate career by reuniting with Holtmann – who recruited him to join the Bulldogs – in Columbus. Brunk made the decision official on Saturday night.

On the Court

Nothing Brunk does could be described as flashy. He’s not a high flyer, top-flight athlete or elite outside shooter.

Rather, he’s a 6-foot-11, 255-pound brute who’ll add to Ohio State’s depth in the post as a true in-the-paint post player. He’s expected to pair with Zed Key, creating a duo at center which should allow E.J. Liddell – assuming he stays in college – to move to power forward where he and Kyle Young will spend most of their time. Brunk’s presence should both help the Buckeyes get through the meat of the Big Ten schedule, considering it’s a grinder for big men. It also gives Holtmann a bunch of different possible lineup combinations in the frontcourt with seven forwards and centers – Brunk, Liddell, Young, Key, Ibrahima Diallo, Seth Towns and Kalen Etzler – standing 6-foot-7 or taller.

Brunk, who’s a traditional five, will do the vast majority of his work in the post both offensively and defensively. 

He has shot 56.1 percent from the floor across his four seasons of college basketball (2016-19 at Butler, 2019-20 at Indiana) and averaged 5.2 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game for the Hoosiers in his only playing season for them. His offensive rebounding rate that year (9.8 percent) was higher than that of every Buckeye but Key last season. At his size and weight, he’s unafraid to bang in the post in a physical league with which he has plenty of familiarity. 

The drawbacks with Brunk largely center on his average athleticism, poor free-throw percentage (57.6 percent in his career) and lack of an outside shot. They’re largely the reasons why he hasn’t played more than the 19.6 minutes per game he averaged in 2019-20. He’ll again be a role player rather than someone who Ohio State relies upon to play a majority of minutes in the post.

Brunk’s back is also a notable concern. A December back surgery kept him out for the duration of the 2020-21 season. He’s said to be healthy at this point, per a source, but he hasn’t played a college basketball game since March 11, 2020.

On the Roster

It’s done. Over. The 2021-22 roster is settled.

Maybe.

These days, a college basketball team isn’t settled until the moment the first game of the season tips off. Notably, E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. are both going through the NBA pre-draft process while retaining their eligibility. As of now, though, the Buckeyes won’t be making any more additions to this group. They have 15 players on scholarship – usually the limit is 13, but Kyle Young and Jimmy Sotos aren’t included on the counter because they’re returning seniors using their extra year of eligibility – and are done searching the transfer portal for options.

Here’s what the scholarship chart looks like with Brunk in the fold:

Pos 6th-Years 5th-Years 4th-Years 3rd-Years 2nd-Years 1st-Years
C JOEY BRUNK IBRAHIMA DIALLO
PF SETH TOWNS KYLE YOUNG E.J. LIDDELL ZED KEY KALEN ETZLER
SF JUSTICE SUEING JUSTIN AHRENS EUGENE BROWN
SG DUANE WASHINGTON JR.
 
  MALAKI BRANHAM
PG
 
JIMMY SOTOS
JAMARI WHEELER
MEECHIE JOHNSON  
TOTALS 2 4 2 2 3 2

One thing adding Brunk does? Ensures the Buckeyes have an absurdly old roster.

They have eight seniors. Eight. Sure, Justin Ahrens, Justice Sueing, Seth Towns and Washington all still have an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, but they’re technically seniors, along with Jamari Wheeler, Sotos, Young and Brunk. All college teams will have more experience than usual this season due to the blanket year of eligibility offered by the NCAA, but even accounting for that, the Buckeyes will have an obscene amount of experience and age.

That might have been concerning years ago when projecting the future. But with the transfer portal bursting with options, Ohio State can tap into it again next season, and it surely will.

Intangibles

No college coaches chasing Brunk in the transfer portal were more familiar with him than those in Columbus.

Holtmann recruited and landed the center years ago when he was at Butler, and he coached him one season. They developed a tight relationship that grew only stronger after Brunk’s father was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died. 

Here’s an excerpt of a highly recommended article CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander put together three-and-a-half years ago that touches on their bond and Holtmann leaving Butler in 2017:

Bulldogs sophomore Joey Brunk had a father battling brain cancer at the time of his commitment to BU. Holtmann vowed to Joe Brunk that he’d coach Joey for his entire college career. Brunk’s dad didn’t want Joey to sign a National Letter of Intent, which most recruits do but stalls their option to transfer out even if their coach leaves. Brunk signed. His father died this past April. Less than two months later, Holtmann was in Columbus.

“My god, what a brutal conversation that was,” Holtmann said. “We were both crying. I said, ‘Joey, I’ve got something really hard I want to say to you.’ I had trouble getting it out. And he said, ‘Coach, I don’t want you to think I’m mad at you.’ He started crying, I started crying.

Brunk began his collegiate career with Holtmann, and now he’ll end it with Holtmann at Ohio State.