Oct. 22, 2015
By Sean Tenaglia `16
There are hops. There’s elevation. Then there’s Rex Pflueger.
The 6-6, 198-pound freshman shooting guard has showcased his impressive vertical leap in multiple dunk contests, including the 2014 MaxPreps Holiday Classic, which he won last December. During a recent Irish practice, Pflueger pulled off a trio of acrobatic dunks that certainly left Notre Dame fans excited for what he has in store for the 2015-16 season.
The Dana Point, California native spent a portion of the summer in South Bend, working with his teammates to improve his game and prepare for his first season at the collegiate level.
“This summer was a great experience, not only for me but also for the other two freshmen, Matt [Ryan] and Elijah [Burns], to come in and get acclimated with the team and the school,” Pflueger said. “When we came back for the school year, it just felt like we were coming back home. That helped us get our foot in the door and now we’re ready to go.”
With their first exhibition game just a week away, the Irish have now begun their full practice schedule in preparation for the season. Pflueger noted that the practices have created a whole new level of competition for he and his teammates.
“The first week was really intense,” Pflueger says. “We’ve had a few practices over the summer and during the preseason, and they were all great, but now getting into the season and doing it every single day is just a whole different monster. Everyone competes as hard as they can everyday, and it’s just great competition.”
Pflueger, who was a four-star recruit coming out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, certainly is no stranger to a high level of competition. He was a second team all-state selection and the Orange County Register player of the year after leading the Monarchs to a 29-5 record in 2014-15. He averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists and scored 19 points in the California state title game. Nevertheless, Pflueger recognized that the jump from the high school game to college hoops would provide some challenges.
“People have always told me that college is a lot more physical and faster paced, and that’s definitely been the case,” Pflueger says. “It’s all in all been a pretty good transition coming from my high school, where I played with some players who went on to play at the college level. Overall, it’s been pretty smooth.”
Pflueger’s transition has been eased by his ability to quickly bond and learn from his more experienced teammates. Senior forward Zach Auguste and junior guard Demetrius Jackson saw extensive playing time for the 2014-15 Irish squad that fell just two points short of an all-time upset of undefeated Kentucky and a berth in the Final Four. Following the graduation of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, Auguste and Jackson are the leaders who Pflueger and his teammates will look up to as the season gets underway.
“It’s awesome getting to play with them after getting to watch them last year and see how well they did,” the former Mater Dei player says. “Now, I’ve gotten to come in and bond with them and become brothers and teammates with them. They’ve done a great job leading us, and I’m excited for the season.”
Despite offers from several other Division I schools, Pflueger chose Notre Dame last fall after spending a weekend on campus. Instrumental in his decision to join the Irish was the Notre Dame coaching staff, led by head coach Mike Brey. As the Irish prepare for opening day, Pflueger said that the coaching staff has continued to push him to develop his game.
“The coaches have been great with me,” the 6-6 guard said. “Just like when they recruited me, everything they said they were going to do, they have done. They tell me what I do wrong, and I just listen and take the criticism with my head up. They just keep telling me to play my game.”
Over the past few seasons, freshmen have played important roles for the Irish basketball squad. The case should be no different this season for a very young Notre Dame team that returns only two seniors and will be missing the production of Grant and Connaughton. Despite these facts, Pflueger is keeping his personal expectations in check and just looks forward to helping the Irish win in any way he can.
“My expectations are to do whatever the coaches ask of me,” Pflueger says. “I’m just here to play, and if Coach Brey wants to put me in, that’s awesome. For our team, we don’t want to lose a game. If we lose, yes it’s a bump in the road, but our goal in the end is to win our last game.”
As the season rapidly approaches, Pflueger finds it difficult to contain his excitement. When he pulls on the blue and gold jersey for the first time, a million thoughts will be racing through his head.
“I am just so excited for that moment and to hear the Notre Dame fight song when we take the court,” Pflueger says. “I can’t wait to represent my school and do the best I can.”
Irish fans expectantly wait for Pflueger to jump out of Purcell Pavilion this winter and hopefully carry the Irish to new heights come tourney time this spring.