By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer @stjack423
---- — It was 18 years ago this month that C.J. Bruton first stepped off the plane in Iowa on his way to become a part of Indian Hills Community College.
Almost two decades have passed since that first trip. A lot of miles and a lot of days have passed. The love Warrior fans have for Bruton hasn’t.
That was very apparent Thursday at “Warrior Junction” in Ottumwa. Bruton’s return to the campus he made his home away from his home country for two years in the late 1990s provided perhaps the greatest point guard in IHCC basketball history with a chance to reconnect with so many great friends and so many great memories.
Almost two decades later, if you think it doesn’t still resonate with Bruton emotionally, think again.
“My dad shows me a highlight or two even today from when I played at Indian Hills when he thinks I need to be fired up,” Bruton said. “I always tell him ‘I know you’re trying to fire me up. It’s not working.’ It just makes me tear up.”
Even with a highlight film of the 1996-97 IHCC championship team he captained at the point playing the background, Bruton didn’t tear up on Thursday as he was officially inducted into the Indian Hills Athletic Hall-of-Fame.
At least not right away.
Not until he started speaking about what he told his family when he decided to first attend Indian Hills and travel away from his home country of Australia.
“I told my mother that when I come back home, I’ll be a better man,” Bruton said as he started to choke back tears. “That first year, I was a mess. Ask anyone. It was this family that helped me get through those days. I know a lot of people think I don’t remember, but we all have landmarks in our life.
“All of you have places in my mind and my heart. You’ve made me the man I am on the court and, especially, of it.”
The special night for Bruton was part of a special week that included bringing his wife Jess along for a family reunion with his grandmother, aunt and three cousins who all made the trip to Ottumwa from Wichita, Kan. Of course, it was Wichita where Bruton was actually born in December of 1975 and lived until the age of 3 before his moved to Australia so his father, Calvin Bruton, Sr., could begin a professional career with the Brisbane Bullets in 1979.
But it would be another Australian professional team that Bruton credits as a driving force that would alter his life, in a good way ultimately, Thanks to being allowed to play professionally for the Perth Wildcats in 1994 before he even looked stateside to further his career on the college level, Bruton found himself limited in his options by making him ineligible for the NCAA.
“After I went to Indian Hills, I wanted to go to Iowa State, but because of the Perth Wildcats it didn’t work out that way,” Bruton said. “I always kind of remembered that. Every time I played against them when I went back home and played professionally (in Australia), I always played that much harder against them.”
That kind of drive and determination made Bruton one of the great players in one of junior college basketball’s greatest programs. Before his career in Ottumwa was over, the two-year starter ended his IHCC career as the school’s single-season and career assists leader while also earning NJCAA All-American and JUCO Tournament MVP honors.
“My first goal when I went there was to graduate. The second was to win a national championship,” Bruton said. “To be honored among some of the best athletes to ever come through this school is a great honor.”
Along the way, Bruton left a legacy he can now show his children for years to come.
“It’s great to know I’ve got my name up here on the (Indian Hills Athletic Hall of Fame) wall,” Bruton said on Thursday. “Now I can show my kids, because I know they’ll never believe it when I tell them Daddy was this good.”