Former Hawkeye Greg Brunner Connects with Incoming Freshman Josh Ogundele
IOWA CTY, Iowa – Greg Brunner was scrolling through Twitter a few weeks ago when he saw a post from Iowa basketball signee Josh Ogundele.
“That one pulled at my heartstrings a little bit,” said Brunner, Iowa’s career rebounding leader.
Ogundele, a 6-foot-11 forward from Worcester Academy and native of England who is a member of Coach Fran McCaffery’s incoming five-man class, went to Twitter to post some of the things he had heard about his game.
“Josh you can’t play at D1 at that weight…Josh, you not good enough for the BIG TEN…Josh’s out of shape…He’ll just end up coming back and playing in England…Josh hasn’t got a motor.”
Ogundele finished the tweet this way: “Josh this Josh that…wait, I’ll prove everyone who said I wouldn’t make it this far wrong.”
Brunner, who had 990 career rebounds and ranks 15th in career scoring with 1,516 points (2002-03 through 2005-06), came to Ogundele’s defense on Twitter.
“From a 6’7”/260-pound Iowa farm kid that was a wasted scholarship and would never play. USE IT everyday to show everyone what you can do! The days I didn’t want 2 workout – I thought of every comment 2 push myself! Take it out on every person that steps between the lines with you.”
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery appreciated Brunner’s support for Ogundele.
“Greg has been a terrific ambassador for our program in a lot of ways,” McCaffery said. “He’s around a lot, and he’s a friend to me and my staff. Certainly he had a fabulous career. And I appreciate, and I know that Josh does, him stepping up and saying, “You know what? I know exactly how you feel and we’re with you.’ I think that’s what it’s all about.”
Ogundele is still in England because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, so he and Brunner have never met.
“I’ve only seen glimpses of him playing,” said Brunner, a veteran of nine professional seasons. “But I’ve heard very positive things about him.”
Brunner would be a perfect role model for Ogundele.
Brunner can relate to the criticism Ogundele has received before playing his first minute of college basketball.
“People don’t understand,” Brunner said. “Like, “He’s a kid, man.’ These guys are not adults. They’re not getting paid for this. People always say, “Oh, a college scholarship is worth the time. And I laugh about that. Because we did the math.”
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Brunner went back and factored in the time each year he spent in practice, conditioning, lifting weights, travel to games and back, all the requirements made of a student-athlete.
“Every year I played, I could have paid for school plus had money left over, the amount of hours we put in,” Brunner said. “And that would have been working at McDonalds. That’s how much time these kids put in.”
An all-state forward, Brunner committed to Iowa as a junior at Charles City High School. He was also offered by Wisconsin.
“When I came in I was a wasted scholarship according to every Iowa fan,” Brunner recalled. “I was never going to play. I remember people saying, “His dad’s a farmer.’ We were not a poor family, but we were well below middle class.”
That doubt became Brunner’s motivation.
“It made me what I am,” Brunner said. “And the way I grew up was part of that, too. I never had anyone saying I could do anything until it was obvious that I could. It’s easy to support you then.”
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Brunner’s life continues to serve as a blueprint for success for younger generations.
He retired after nine professional seasons, mostly in Belgium and Italy, because of a shoulder injury. He also played for the Swiss National team.
He and his wife, Carin, have three young children. Brunner works for Principal Financial Group. And he’s been spending nights working on two Master’s degrees from the University of Iowa. Many a day started in the office at 7 a.m. and ended in a classroom at 10 p.m.
Brunner recently received his MBA, and is finishing work on an M.S in Business Analytics.
“I could have finished next spring, but I pushed it off to the Fall of 2021,” he said. “I decided I would take he summer off and enjoy it.”
Brunner said that helping raise his kids, having a fulltime job and getting a pair of post-graduate degrees requires time management. A daunting task, for sure, but he said it pales in comparison to the requirements of a student-athlete.
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“It’s nothing compared to what it’s like to go to school and play basketball at that level,” Brunner said. “It’s physically and emotionally draining.”
And when Brunner sees a student-athlete criticized on social media, he doesn’t like it.
People have no understanding or conceptual knowledge of how things work, or the time it takes to do something like that,” Brunner said.
McCaffery predicts that Ogundele will have a terrific career at Iowa.
“He’s 7 feet tall and he’s a wide body,” McCaffery said. “He’s got some balance and can face up, so he’s got some versatility. He can run, he can move. We’ve got to figure out the optimum shape to get him in. That’s why we need to get him over here and get him working with (strength coach) Bill Maxwell.”
McCaffery likes Ogundele’s feel for the game, his passing skills and his ability to move laterally and shoot the 3-pointer.
McCaffery said that Ogundele has a motor, despite what his critics say. It’s just a question of getting that motor fine-tuned.
“He’s got a motor, but he’s got to get in optimum physical condition so he can maintain it,” the coach said. “And I think that’s the challenge for him. He’s probably 285 (pounds), a wide-bodied kid. And he uses that girth very effectively. But he has to get a little leaner so he can take advantage of that girth, as well as his balance and quickness. That will enable him to max out his potential, which is tremendous.”
That, and taking Brunner’s advice.
“He needs to come in and beat the heck out of everybody,” Brunner said. “That’s what he has to do.”