Pflueger working to build confidence in bench role
Brian Plamondon | Wednesday, January 20, 2016
He had barely been on campus a week in August and freshman guard Rex Pflueger had already made a name for himself, posting a video of dunks to his Twitter account that eventually went viral when it was picked up by Bleacher Report.
Over four months later and well into his freshman season with the Irish, Pflueger’s opportunities to show off his dunking skills were limited as he found himself buried on the depth chart at guard.
Look at Pflueger’s stat line thus far — averaging 1.2 points per game in just over eight minutes — and it becomes obvious that Plueger has been a reserve, a fringe player at best.
But then, in last Saturday’s win over Duke, Pflueger scored seven crucial points for the Irish in a career-high 23 minutes in one of the rowdiest environments in all of college basketball, Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I think I was confident,” Pflueger said. “It’s basketball. You go out there, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of two people or 200,000. When you’re playing you just have to stay confident, trust your abilities and everything will happen for a reason.”
While most freshmen, especially ones coached by Mike Brey, are expected to pay their dues, Pflueger for his part was a highly successful high school shooting guard, ranked 83rd overall nationally, per Rivals.com. While going from a standout prep career to the bench can be a tough transition for many, Brey said Pflueger has handled everything in stride.
“I give Rex a lot of credit; he had a great attitude during the first part of the season,” Brey said. “He wasn’t playing as much. But he was getting better, his attitude was great, and eventually he was going to get his shot. And he’s an example of a guy who took advantage of his shot.”
Pflueger now is hoping his spark at Duke was not an anomaly, something he can turn into a constant for the Irish who need improved depth off the bench. Pflueger said sophomore forward Bonzie Colson can serve as a prime example.
“He waited his turn during ACC play, and then he just blew up,” Pflueger said last week before the Duke game. “He competed every single day in practice. He proved that he deserved to be out there on the court, and he’s really been kind of like a model for what I’ve been striving for this year.”
As Pflueger pushes for more and more playing time as the season progresses, he said he understands all aspects of his game need some degree of improvement, although one stands out.
“I still need to be more confident on the offensive end,” Pflueger said. “But that’s going to come with time and experience.”
While Pflueger’s confidence shooting the ball would be important for the Irish in adding another scorer, Brey has been quick to point out how overly confident Pflueger can be on the court sometimes — including launching his first 3-point attempt against Duke from long range.
“I thought to myself, ‘C’mon man,’” Brey said. “ … Most of the days he [practices] in a blue shirt … and when you’re in a blue shirt [for reserves], sometimes you have a license to kind of do things sometimes that I don’t pay as much attention to. But he has to play like he’s going to play and not take bad shots or force things in a blue shirt. So when he comes over to a white shirt [for starters], his habits are consistent.”
Despite some growing pains along the way, Pflueger’s emergence has not been overlooked by his teammates.
“Guys like Rex have been competing in practice, showing flashes,” Vasturia said. “It was really great for [Pflueger and Ryan] to step up and help this team the way we know [they can].”
As for his play on the court, Pflueger showed the poise of a veteran when letting go of a buzzer-beating 3 to put Notre Dame up six on Duke with 3:08 to play. That’s something Vasturia said he knows will continue with more confidence.
“He’s just a kid that competes, since the day the summer when he got here,” Vasturia said. “He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. He plays with a lot of emotion, which is great, and he brings a certain toughness which is needed.”
With his teammates behind him, Pflueger now can hope to be more of a presence, looking to Colson last season as motivation.
“There’s a toughness,” Brey said. “Rex picks up two charges, draws two offensive fouls off of them. He’s there to get his hand on the big rebound at the end. There’s a toughness about him, and I think we need to keep cultivating that.”