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No job too big or small for Mater Dei's Pflueger
SANTA ANA – To understand what Rex Pflueger means to Mater Dei basketball, don’t look at the stat sheet.
Look at his knees. Splotches of skin are missing from diving for loose balls.
Examine his right hip. Nasty-looking strawberries are souvenirs from charges taken.
“People talk about the intangibles of the game,” Pflueger said before a practice this week. “Well, a guy will say ‘I scored 30 points’ but his team lost. I’d rather score like 15 points, but get 10 rebounds and get six steals if that what it takes for our team to win.”
Pflueger and his Mater Dei teammates go for a big win Saturday. The Monarchs play Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in the CIF State Championships Open Division championship game at Cal's Haas Pavilion at 8 p.m.
Mater Dei is gunning for its fifth straight state title. Pflueger, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, was a starter on last year’s team that starred Stanley Johnson. He transferred to Mater Dei before his junior year after spending his freshman and sophomore years at JSerra.
With Johnson around, Pflueger, although he received All-CIF recognition, was something of a role player. So was every other player on the Monarchs’ roster, given Johnson’s status as the best high school player in the nation.
Pflueger is a star player now. He and teammate MJ Cage were named All-CIF first team this season. Yet Pflueger still sees himself as a role player in many ways. He is willing to sacrifice scoring if it means a victory.
“It depends on what our team needs me to do,” Plueger said. “If I get double-teamed, then I’m going to make the pass every single time. Getting a big blocked shot gets me going, too.”
Pflueger got it going in the Southern California Regionals Open Division championship game last week. He had his best offensive game of March, scoring 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting overall and was 3 for 6 on 3-pointers.
In the regionals semifinals, Pflueger did not shoot so well. He was 2 for 9 from the field and scored seven points while teammates La’vette Parker, Cage and KJ Smith scored 21, 17 and 14 points respectively as the Monarchs beat Bishop Montgomery, 65-59.
But Pflueger had a team-high four assists and guarded Bishop Montgomery’s best player, Stevie Thompson Jr., who went 6 for 17 from the field and 0 for 6 on 3-pointers.
It was, to Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, another example of Pflueger’s whatever-it-takes style.
“We ask a lot of Rex,” McKnight said. “I think he almost wears himself out on the court. He’s such a good defender and puts in so much effort at that end, and then he does so much for us on the offensive end.”
Pflueger is Mater Dei’s leading scorer at 16.9 points a game. He is the second-leading rebounder, at 6.2 a game, and leads the team in assists at 3.5 a game.
He is happy making those contributions at Mater Dei. Pflueger got what he wanted when he transferred there.
“It’s more of a collegiate-style of high school at Mater Dei,” said Pflueger, an articulate and polite 18-year-old. “The gym, the facilities, the coaching, the mentality. When I was at JSerra and we played Mater Dei, you could see how their players were so tuned in to the game, so aggressive.
“That’s my style of play, and I figured when I came here it would be a perfect fit.”
That’s also why Pflueger, an excellent jumper who accepted an invitation to a high school slam dunk competition Wednesday in Indiana, selected Notre Dame as his college destination. The Fighting Irish were among his five finalists that also included Cal, San Diego State, Texas A&M and Washington State.
That is a diverse group of universities. Or, as Pflueger, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, described his final five, “those schools are all over the place.”
Pflueger knows something about “all over the place.” The Pflueger family traveled the world, visiting 45 countries on six continents, when Rex was a sixth grader.
“Every school had something different to offer,” he said. “Every coach who recruited me was amazing.”
Pflueger thought San Diego State was the best choice after visiting the campus.
“Then I went to Notre Dame the next weekend and something just clicked,” he said. “’This is me. This is my school.’
“At Notre Dame, everybody has something special. Either they’re a great athlete or a great student or both. There is a higher striving for excellence there that made it special for me.”
It’s been a special year for Pflueger. One more win in his final high school game would make it more so. He is willing to sacrifice more skin to make it happen.
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