From Malibu to Macedonia, former Trinity League boys’ basketball players continue to make headlines as their seasons get underway

By Dan Arritt     10/24/2018

Rex Pflueger was recently named team captain at Notre Dame for a second consecutive year. The former Mater Dei standout was the best defensive player for the Fighting Irish the past two seasons and will be the only senior on the team. 

“Rex is a winner, plain and simple,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told WNDU. “He knows how our system works and what our program’s expectations are, both on and off the court.” 

One of Pflueger’s fellow senior teammates at Mater Dei is getting a fresh start this season at one of the highest-profile basketball programs in the country. 

K.J. Smith is in the hunt to be the starting point guard for the Tar Heels, who have made more Final Four appearances (20) than any team in the NCAA. 

Smith played his freshman year at the University of Pacific before transferring to North Carolina in June of 2017. He had to sit out last season under NCAA transfer rules. Smith is the son of Kenny Smith, a former North Carolina standout and current basketball analyst for TNT. 

M.J. Cage was a junior at Mater Dei when Pflueger and Smith were seniors. He spent two years at Oregon but is on the move as well, transferring to Pepperdine in hopes of getting more playing time. 

He certainly enjoys the change in scenery so far. 

“The campus is amazing and the view is hard to beat, especially coming from rainy Oregon,” Cage told the Pepperdine Graphic, a student-run publication. 

Cage will have to sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules, but the 6-10 forward and son of former Los Angeles Clippers forward Michael Cage said he will make good use of the time. 

“I have this whole year to get better and work on my game,” he said. 

Johnnie Vassar graduated from JSerra in 2014 after leading the Lions to their first CIF-SS basketball championship and earning CIF-SS Division 4AA player of the year honors. 

He continued his career at Northwestern, but his time there became more known for his antitrust lawsuit against the school and NCAA than his on-court performance. 

Vassar alleged that Northwestern officials tried to force him to “voluntarily withdraw” from the basketball program
so his scholarship could be used for another player, and that the NCAA should
not be allowed to require transfers to sit out a season. 

Vassar graduated from Northwestern
in June and transferred to Tennessee
Tech, where he immediately became eligible and will have two years of playing time remaining. 

“We had one scholarship left and only wanted to add the right person for our team; a guy that is good for our chemistry and is also a good player,” Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne told the Cookeville Herald-Citizen. “Obviously, with Johnnie, we’re bringing in an excellent student – with an education from Northwestern – who is hungry to play again.” 

Joe Furstinger finished his college career last season as the top rebounder and shot blocker at New Mexico State. The former Santa Margarita standout found a place to play in Macedonia and made his debut for KK Gostivar on Oct. 6.  

The 6-9 forward had an immediate impact, totaling 32 points and 14 rebounds in his first game.