Rex Pflueger isn’t the first Mater Dei boys’ basketball player to suit up for Notre Dame.
That distinction will always belong to Matt Beeuwsaert, a 6-foot-6 forward whose size, intelligence and versatility were similar to Pflueger’s when he arrived in South Bend, Indiana 31 years earlier.
That’s where their commonalities began to drift apart, however.
Beeuwsaert played sparingly during his first two seasons at Notre Dame. Disappointed with his lack of playing time, he transferred to California for his final two seasons.
Pflueger didn’t play much during his freshman season either, but gained national attention when he tipped in a game-winning basket against Stephen F. Austin in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, his only basket of the game.
Arriving with even more confidence last season, Pflueger started 11 of 36 games for Notre Dame, averaging 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 21.4 minutes.
Eager to take his game to another level, Pflueger put in extra work in the offseason and now’s in excellent position to solidify a starting role with the Fighting Irish. With the two leading scorers from last season now graduated or playing professionally, Notre Dame will need others to pick up the offensive slack.
“It’s time for me to be more aggressive,” Pflueger told Blue & Gold Illustrated following a July workout. “It’s time for me to take that role. … I feel like I can do a little bit of everything: driving and shooting. I want to be a playmaker as well and work off ball screens. All in all, I want to be able to contribute to the team in whatever aspect it is on offense.”
Onlookers over the summer also noticed Pflueger had become more vocal in workouts and scrimmages.
“I definitely believe I’m going to be a voice for our team this year,” he told Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I have two years under my belt and been through the fire a little bit with our team. I’m excited to be out there and be another voice for us.”
Pflueger has taken the reigns before.
He played his first two high school seasons at JSerra before transferring to Mater Dei for the 2013-14 season. That team was led by Stanley Johnson, who led the Monarchs to a 35-0 record and their fourth consecutive state title, then became the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons a year later.
Pflueger returned for his senior season the following year, but many still considered him the second-best player on the team behind 6-10 junior M.J. Cage. Still, he led the Monarchs in scoring at 16.9 points a game and pulled them within a victory of another state title.
Beeuwsaert’s best season came as a junior, when he averaged nearly 16 points while leading Mater Dei to the 1984 CIF-SS Division 4-A title and was named the division’s player of year. He shifted to point guard for his senior year, which affected his stats, but not his value to the team.
“He did everything for us,” Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “He brought the ball up the court. He scored. He rebounded. Plus, he was a great kid who always put the team ahead of himself.”
Sounds like something McKnight would have said about Pflueger 25 years later.