Notes: Notre Dame G Rex Pflueger putting in even more time as main guy

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Practicing in spring and summer what he preached last winter has been good so far for Notre Dame guard Rex Pflueger.

When last seen in an official basketball setting, Pflueger was publicly plotting his offseason plan. Back in mid-March inside KeyBank Center following the second-round NCAA tournament loss to West Virginia, Pflueger talked of what was next as his collegiate career hit the halfway point.

Get better.

In every area.

Since that somber Saturday afternoon in Western New York, Pflueger has stuck to his plan. It shows. In practices, he’s moving and cutting and talking more. He’s surer of every move. Of himself. In pickup games, his perimeter shot, which was a little slow and deliberate early in his career, is quicker. And it’s finding the basket. A lot.

“I’m getting the shot off quicker because I’m not bringing the ball down as much,” the 6-foot-6, 202-pound Pflueger said. “That comes with strength and being efficient. Practicing it. I’m just implementing it with my confidence and going further with it.”

That comes with repetition. Alone in the gym during the spring, and then again back home in California for a brief break before returning for summer school, Pflueger often squeezed off 500 shots in a session. Sometimes 700.

With that work came more confidence, not just in his shot from distance, which the Irish need to help replace graduated seniors V.J. Beachem (87 baskets from 3 last season) and Steve Vasturia (58), but his overall offensive game. Pflueger also has ventured more into the mid-range and feels more at ease in cutting and moving instead of just standing and waiting.

He’s ready to average more than the 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in the 21.4 minutes he played over 35 games with 11 starts last season.

But he’s not about to let slip what got him good game minutes since he was a freshman — defense.

Pflueger’s ready to offer more of everything.

“That’s what I’m excited about,” he said. “I get to go back to what I originally was in high school and that was a main player on both ends of the floor.

“I’m definitely going to be more aggressive.”

Being a main guy also means having more of a constant voice. On the floor. In the locker room. During summer pickup sessions. While the bulk of that burden falls on senior captains Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Pflueger often is there helping to split up teams for pickup and offering his opinion on what needs to be done that day.

It’s a place he wouldn’t have gone his first two years.

“I know the process now,” he said. “We’re still an older team, a smart team and we’re going to be really good this year.”

Important agenda

When classes at Notre Dame start Aug. 22, senior power forward Martinas Geben will not be in attendance. Same goes for the second day. And the third.

Geben might go more than a week without stepping on campus for a class. But he’ll have a good excuse. He’ll be on the other side of the world auditioning for a roster spot on Lithuania’s student team, which is a step below the national squad, to play in the World University Games, held Aug. 19-30 in Taipei, Taiwan.

“You can’t always play for Lithuania, so you have to do it,” said Geben, in solid academic standing as he heads toward spring graduation. “I can always go back to school.”

Geben will return to his native Lithuania for 10 days of training camp next month. From there, the squad will fly to China for additional tryouts and an international tournament. If Geben auditions well enough in China, he’ll make the team and accompany it to competition in Taiwan.

“You don’t get a chance to represent your country every day,” Geben said. “I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity. It will be an honor to put on that Lithuania jersey.”

Whether he makes it all the way or not, Geben will quickly turn the page for his senior season. Still with around 260 pounds on his 6-foot-10 frame, Geben has cut his body fat since last season. He turned four pounds of flab into muscle and has been quicker off his feet around the basket. It’s given him more confidence to do more with his offensive game.

His personal mantra this season? Nothing to lose.

“This is it,” said Geben, who averaged 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.4 minutes while shooting 64.6 percent from the field and 76.7 percent from the foul line last season, his first as a starter. “If I don’t give it my all, then I’m going to live the rest of my life with regrets.

“I don’t have anything to lose, so you have to get it all done now or never.”

Recruiting doings

The first of the July evaluation periods for college coaches arrives Wednesday. Those will keep Mike Brey and his three assistant coaches on the road for five-day stretches — from 5 p.m. Wednesdays through 5 p.m. Sundays — three times the rest of the month.

Brey planned to start his recruiting journey in the southeast with AAU stops in Atlanta, North Augusta, S.C. and Spartanburg, S.C. That’s where three prospects that remain high on the Irish wish list — power forwards Joey Hauser (Stevens Points, Wis.) and Simi Shittu (Burlington, Ontario Canada) and swingman Saddiq Bey (Washington) — are participating in various tournaments.

Bey and Hauser are four-star prospects; Shittu is a five-star ranked as high as No. 5 nationally.

The time is an evaluation period only, which means coaches can only watch prospects play. Communication between coaches and players is prohibited.

Coupled with the commitment of former Connecticut power forward Juwan Durham, who is enrolled in summer school and working out with the Irish, Brey has commitments from four prospects heading into the early-November signing period.

Under NCAA recruiting regulations Brey is prohibited from commenting on high school seniors-to-be/commitments Robby Carmody (Mars, Pa.), Dane Goodwin (Upper Arlington, Ohio) and Prentiss Hubb (Washington), all four-star guards ranked among the top 80 nationally, until they sign their national letters of intent.

Brey has three scholarships to offer.

The 2017 evaluation period marks the first time since the summer of 2004 that Brey will be out on the road with four commitments already in his back pocket.

Thirteen summers ago, Notre Dame received commitments from the class of Ryan Ayers (now an Irish assistant), Zach Hillesland, Kyle McAlarney and Luke Zeller all before mid-May. Brey remembers the Big East meetings that month when Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun joked that the Irish staff wasn’t even going to go out in July with their recruiting all but complete.

Brey and his staff did go out on the evaluation circuit that July but didn’t sign anyone.

Notre Dame's current class, which is expected to add at least one more name, is ranked fifth nationally by Scout.

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