Nov. 12, 2014
University of Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey made it a recruiting priority a year ago to bolster his frontline roster to fulfill specific needs for the 2014-15 season. Brey didn’t have as detailed a plan when it came to assembling the 2014 class, but the Irish head coach certainly has found three players to complement his style of play and system.
Power forward Elijah Burns (Troy, N.Y.), multi-purpose guard Rex Pflueger (Dana Point, Calif.) and sharpshooter Matt Ryan (Cortland Manor, N.Y.) signed their National Letters of Intent today on the first day of the November early signing period. The trio is set to enroll at Notre Dame in the fall of 2015. It’s a class that offers great balance to the current freshmen on the Irish squad.
“I really like how our recruiting has played out the past two years with the players we have signed,” says Brey, who is in his 15th season on the Notre Dame sideline. “We had definitive needs a year ago because we were losing two frontline players off our 2013-14 squad. This year, we had more flexibility and I really think we’ve signed three guys who can do a little bit of everything for us.
“In Elijah (Burns), we are acquiring a physical, skilled frontline player, while Rex (Pflueger) is a just a big-time winner who just does so many things well on the court. Matt (Ryan) is an excellent shooter and the kind of player we’ve grown accustomed to having here at Notre Dame.
“We will be losing two really good players when Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant finish out their careers at the end of this season, so I think these three players we’ve signed are going to help fill the void.”
Burns spent three years at LaSalle Institute in his hometown of Troy, New York, before transferring to Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey, a program that has produced current National Basketball Association players Luol Deng, Royal Ivey and Charlie Villanueva.
In his first season (2013-14) at Blair Academy, Burns averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in leading his team to a 19-6 record and New Jersey Prep A state championship. A first-team all-New Jersey Prep selection, he scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Buccaneers’ 61-47 victory over Peddie in the state semifinals. After leading his team to the state crown with a 77-65 win over St. Benedict’s, Burns garnered all-tournament honors.
Following the season, Burns earned a spot on the U18 United States squad that played in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, Germany. The tournament is an international basketball competition held every two years and played between junior youth national basketball teams. It is generally recognized as the youth world championship for the U18 age group. Burns’ team won the silver medal in the 16-team competition in 2014 after losing to Italy in the championship game.
From 2010-13, the 6-8, 215-pound forward was a three-year starter at LaSalle Institute in Troy, New York. As a junior and team captain, Burns garnered first-team all-city honors and was an honorable mention all-state selection after averaging 17.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. In his sophomore season, he was a second-team all-area pick after earning honorable mention honors in his freshman season.
Burns played in three Empire State Games, an Olympic-style competition held annually in the state of New York for amateur athletes, and helped his squad in 2013 to a first-place finish. From 2012-14, he played for the Albany City Rocks AAU basketball program and guided two of his squads to consecutive top-three finishes at the national championships–second place (2014) and third place (2013).
“I’m thrilled to have Elijah join our program,” Brey says. “Already, he’s very physically ready for the college game. For a player with his size, Elijah is a great passer, and that is something that really stood out for me when I was recruiting him. He shoots the ball really well and is extremely athletic. Elijah is able to play above the rim and rebound.
“He’s a very physical defender and that grabbed my attention as well when I watched him play. Elijah is well coached and plays in a very competitive high school program at Blair Academy.”
Burns also has been a standout off the court. In 2014, he was the recipient of the Stephen F. Curry prize at Blair Academy, awarded annually to first-year students at the school who excel academically. At LaSalle Institute, he won a Certificate of Academic Merit on three occasions, earning the gold honor in 2013. Burns also earned a Certificate of Merit after participating in the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., in 2013.
Pflueger has played three seasons in the highly competitive Trinity League in California. After two seasons starring at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, he transferred to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana to play under legendary coach Gary McKnight, the all-time winningest coach in California high school basketball history.
In his first season with the Monarchs’ program, he averaged 12.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists while leading Mater Dei to a 35-0 record and the school’s first-ever MaxPreps national championship and fourth consecutive state title. En route to the undefeated season and national, state and sectional crowns, Mater Dei knocked off five eventual state champions and finished 9-0 versus teams that played for state titles.
During the 2013-14 season, Pflueger shot 42.7 percent (143-335) from the field, 30.9 percent (43-139) from three-point range and 78.3 percent (90-115) from the charity stripe. He served as a team captain while earning first-team all-California Interscholastic (CIF) and all-Trinity League accolades.
The Monarchs also posted several key wins during the regular season, included victories over Pennsylvania AAA state champion Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia), 79-67 at the Spalding Hoophall Classic, and over Whitney Young (Chicago), the eventual Illinois 4A titlist, 69-57. Against Neumann-Goretti, Pflueger scored 30 points in the nationally-televised game on ESPN.
Pflueger was one of 30 guard and wing players invited to the Nike 2014 Kevin Durant Skills Academy and also was one of 100 prep players selected to attend the LaBron James Skills Academy.
From 2012-14, the 6-4, 180-pound guard participated in the Pangos All-American Camp, an invitation-only event for the nation’s top scholastic players. In 2014, Pflueger was selected for the Top 30 game after leading the camp in rebounding and finishing among the top 10 participants in scoring and steals. In 2013, he earned MVP honors in the Top 60 game.
As a member of the Compton Magic AAU team in 2013, Pflueger garnered MVP recognition after leading his squad to the title at the Adidas Super 64 Tournament. Last season, he played for the Oakland Solders Nike EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball) team and was the team’s second-leading scorer.
“I am very excited to have Rex join our basketball program,” Brey says. “He plays for a great high school program and for a coaching icon in Gary McKnight. Rex has had the luxury of learning from some great high school coaches. He certainly has a tremendous feel for the game.
“He’s very athletic and a great defender. Rex has a real all-around game as a passer and a shooter. He has been accustomed to winning during his high school career, and I’m sure that winner’s mentality is going to carry over to his career here at Notre Dame. Rex is a player we’ve been very high on since we started recruiting him.”
Ryan played in only eight games during the 2013-14 campaign at the Iona Preparatory School (New Rochelle, New York) after having surgery on both hips for torn labrum. Prior to the surgery, the 6-8, 210-pound forward averaged 19.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
Ryan was named MVP of the Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester Civic Center during the Christmas holiday. In leading his team to the tournament title with a victory over Spring Valley (New York) High School, he scored 22 points, connecting on seven of 11 shots from the field, including a four-for-seven performance from beyond the arc. Without Ryan in the lineup, his squad advanced to the quarterfinals of the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) championship later in the season.
As a sophomore in 2012-13, he averaged 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists while earning second team all-CHSAA and all-city honors. Ryan was one of the few sophomores in the New York metropolitan area to earn a spot on both teams. He led his Iona Prep team to the CHSAA quarterfinals that season.
As a member of the junior varsity squad as a freshman, he netted 26.0 points per game.
During the 2012-13 and 2011-12 AAU seasons, Ryan played for the New Heights AAU squad. In 2013 he averaged 30.0 points per game at the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis, Indiana, and scored 30-plus points in three contests during the tournament.
At the Hoop Group Summer Classic East in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania, that same year with the 17Us, he averaged 17.0 points per game. In 2014 he traveled with the Albany City Rocks 17U AAU squad (a member of the same team as Burns), but he did not play while recovering from his injury.
“Matt is a big-time shooter,” Brey says. “We’ve had a long history of having great shooters in the program during my time here, and I firmly believe Matt is going to develop into one of those special scorers for us. He has deep range and is not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the court.
“Matt is going to add another dimension to our perimeter game. His size enables him to shoot over the top of people. He plays with a great deal of energy and passion and is an underrated passer. Matt will add versatility to our lineup because he is such a multi-dimensional player.”
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