Feb. 3, 2004
Greg Brunner is hardnosed. Literally it’s not just an expression.
After Iowa came back to drop Eastern Illinois on Dec. 30, Brunner walked into the press room with a swollen “schnoz” and proudly proclaimed it was the fifth time his nose had been broken.
“I’m kind of the garbage guy,” said Brunner. “That’s what I’m here to do. I’m an energy guy. I love diving on the floor and, from a lot of the assistant coaches I talk to, that’s just my game. In that position, I’m more prone to injuries. The elbows come my way, and I’m usually on the floor all the time.”
But due to genetic fate, Brunner’s nasal passages can be his downfall. The sophomore power forward has had enlarged adenoids and tonsils his entire life, which has caused asthma-like results and limited his athleticism.
“I’m kind of the garbage guy. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m an energy guy. I love diving on the floor and, from a lot of the assistant coaches I talk to, that’s just my game. In that position, I’m more prone to injuries. The elbows come my way, and I’m usually on the floor all the time.”
Iowa sophomore Greg Brunner
“I had chronic sinus infection because whenever I’d get sick, it would go right there,” Brunner said. “I had three strep throats in a month. Last year, it felt like I had asthma. I got so tired I couldn’t breathe.”
Brunner underwent surgery after last season to remove his enlarged glands, but more complex surgeries are likely to follow, whenever he stops breaking his nose so frequently.
“The surgeries help greatly because I can run better and it’s helped with my consistency,” he said. “I can stay in shape longer and better. Now, I can take deep breaths.”
The improved athleticism in the Charles City, IA.-native is just one change since he came to Iowa City nearly two years ago. Like fellow true sophomore Jeff Horner, Brunner is convinced he’s benefited from the learning curve.
“I thought I knew a lot about basketball coming in,” Brunner said, “but I probably doubled my knowledge in my first year. I think that’s going to increase each and every year, just by experience.
“The knowledge that coach (Steve Alford) has is so beyond what most people can comprehend. He’s played the game and he’s seen so many different levels and played for so many different people, he can filter that into his players.”
In addition to the nuts and bolts of the game, Brunner’s confidence has improved as well.
Last year, Brunner was a much questioned and criticized new member of the Iowa squad. But after Brunner scored a career-high 26 points for the win over then 16th-rated Louisville on Nov. 29, the naysayers had far less to say.
“People know that I belong here now, but I still don’t feel I’ve reached my potential,” Brunner said. “I feel I’m where I should be. I have moments where I show what I can be like, but I have other times where I don’t. I have to be more consistent.”
But at Louisville, consistency was the last thing on Brunner’s – or anyone else’s – mind.
“I was there 100 percent mentally and physically,” he said. “I’ve had games where I’d be there 100 percent physically or 100 percent mentally. It’s hard to have both things for the same game. A lot of times you’re locked into one aspect. Then you can totally tell because you can take over a game.
“It’s like you’re on top of the world.” Brunner added. “It just feels like you’re in a zone where nothing will disturb you.”
Consistency, for Brunner, comes with confidence.
“Confidence is the hardest thing to maintain,” he said. “If you have a bad game, you know it’s seen by a lot of people. You want to play well every single game, but it’s hard to do. When you have a bad game, you feel you let your teammates down.
“The hardest thing to do is maintain that shooting confidence. If you can do that, the game is so much easier mentally.”
After the Louisville match-up, Brunner was named co-Player of the Week in the Big Ten Conference and he earned all-tournament honors in Iowa’s Gazette Hawkeye Challenge.
Those accolades aren’t bad for a person who may have never played the game.
Brunner and his father, Tom, often disagreed about which sport he should focus on, with the final decision lying between family-traditional baseball and the much-loved basketball.
“He wanted me to be a baseball player,” said Brunner, who said he still loves the game. “That runs in our family, with my dad and cousins. But he saw that basketball was where my heart was and he let go. I think he finally started to see I was 100 percent committed to basketball and he jumped on the bandwagon and supported me.”
Few could say that was a bad decision.