March 7, 2005
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Everybody on the Iowa basketball team is different on the court than off, but no one is quite as different as Greg Brunner.
A 245-pound, 6-foot-7 power forward known for physical and aggressive play – jumping and diving around the court, it would be hard to imagine seeing Brunner take up an intense academic argument with the chair of the Communications Department across the Iowa River.
But he does.
This past summer while in a communications course, Brunner challenged Professor Randy Hirokawa on his perception of athletes in competition and out of play . “He did not believe me,” Brunner passionately said. “He said that when people are really aggressive on the court and the field, they’re that way in person. I raised my hand and said, `No, it’s not.’ “
After a strange look by the professor, Brunner continued: “You’ve seen me out on the court and the way I play. I’m very aggressive on the court and very competitive, but off the court I’m a huge teddy bear. If anybody wants to come up to me and talk to me about anything, I’ll listen; I’m just very laid back. I just go with the flow. I’m very different on and off the court.”
And perhaps that is one of the greatest misconceptions about student-athletes.
“All athletes are stereotyped as idiots, and that’s something that’s always been,” Brunner said. “I guess if you’re good at sports, it can’t carry over. That doesn’t bother me.”
For Brunner, though, that hasn’t been a problem.
Greg Brunner and his teammates square off against Purdue Thursday in first round action of the 2005 Big Ten Conference Men’s Baskeball Tournament at he United Center in Chicago. The winner gets to play No. 2 seed Michigan State on Friday.
“If there’s a question in class that nobody’s answered and I know the answer, I’ll say it,” he said. “I have a good relationship with many of my professors because I talk a lot. I don’t really worry if people think I’m sucking up or not.”
While Brunner pounded out an 8.2-rebound per game average last year to be ranked second in the Big Ten, he also kept up with another great passion – the history of the early 20th Century.
An honor roll student with a GPA over 3.5 in high school, Brunner developed a fascination with history after a ninth-grade course taught by an assistant basketball coach Ron Turner at Charles City High School.
“I’ve always loved history, but he made it a lot more interesting,” Brunner said. “He’s one I called for help on a paper I wrote last year. He’s fun to talk with about stuff like that.
“I think I impressed him a bit because I could hold a debate with him,” added Brunner.
On Turner’s end, he saw a freshman who had a tireless work ethic, on and off the court.
“When he looked at major college basketball, I knew he was going to do fine academically,” Turner said. “As a ninth grader he probably wasn’t the smartest kid in the world, but he worked so hard he was a good student.
“I think he became academically gifted because he worked so hard.”
The “teddy bear” inside that isn’t evident when Brunner’s fighting for the ball or scrambling to make a rebound was also evident in high school, according to the former coach.
“My Sociology II class has a service learning component and he worked with kindergartners. He’s really good with kids,” Turner said. “When he first started, I was afraid he’d accidentally step on one of them with his 17 ½-inch shoes.”
“I’m proud of everything he’s done on the basketball court, but I’m really proud he’s spent so much time visiting kids in the hospital and reading to kids,” the coach added. “I know he’s committed to those things and I know he and Jeff (Horner) really spend a lot of time doing stuff like that.”
Turner said academics and service activities became more important for Brunner while in middle school. But he still had the “intense” edge.
“I think as a little kid he was one of those bounce off the wall kids,” says Turner.
Well, maybe he’s not that different on and off the court.
The junior did go behind Coach Steve Alford’s back to bungee jump with then-teammate Nick DeWitz and a few managers while in Australia in the summer of 2003. And he does like cliff jumping.
“I just love to put myself out there,” Brunner said. “If I wanted to be real intelligent I probably wouldn’t be jumping into 260-pound people all the time and hurting my body by trying to jump on the floor.
“But I figure that’s more fun than watching someone else do it.”