Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 56 of 63 NOV. 2, 2019 57 MEN'S BASKETBALL rehab to recover from. "It had hap- pened during the most interesting and difficult time in my life, going through everything with my mother and her situation." Most student-athletes prefer to call Notre Dame a family rather than a school, and Pflueger is no different. "Just having [my teammates] out there, playing basketball with me, keeping my spirits up, checking in on me," he said, "… Those are just the type of relationships that you build at a university like Notre Dame." And because Pflueger has been around this place for going on five years, he said the other veteran players "under- stand how I function, and they know when to come on and be there for me, but they also know when to give me space." Mike Brey has built h i s c o a c h i n g c a re e r on the longtime belief that camaraderie and a strong support network are the cornerstones to any successful program, so the Irish skipper orga- nized a trip for the entire team to at- tend Rebecca's memorial celebration in Southern California about a month after her passing. Plenty of tears and laughter followed. "It's amazing the team-building exercise that this has been," Brey said. "Not that you would want it because of the death of a parent of one of your players, but our guys have been there with him, they've been there for him." A SILVER LINING? C o n f u s e d , d i s g u s t e d , o v e r- whelmed and worried about his family and future, Pflueger returned home after surgery to be with fam- ily, decompress, clear his head and reprioritize. The knee injury occurred early enough last year that Pflueger was eligible for a fifth season, but only if he and the Irish coaches agreed that was best. Unexpected transfers and other cir- cumstances had taken Brey out of his usual "stay old" roster rhythm and left the coach with a full-blown youth movement last season. Would there be any room on a young team for a veteran player to re- join whose contributions were rarely measured on a postgame stat sheet? A united front from Rebecca and Brey pushing Pflueger to return steered the decision. "Let's do this," Pflueger said. Coming back to Notre Dame for the spring semester was the easy the part. The demanding workload awaiting his arrival was not. The intensity of Notre Dame's ac- celerated MBA program coupled with a rigorous daily rehab regimen rou- tinely led to 16-hour days for Pflueger. Calling on personal dedication and motherly motivation, Pflueger survived what he called the "most intense schooling ever," and through this summer and fall he started again to evolve into a someday starter and an obvious team captain, when the time is right. "We'll just take this when we get it," Brey said of not rushing Pflueger's return. Pflueger was close to full-go in mid- October. During a practice that was open to the media, the 6-6, 218-pound master-of-all-trades looked comfort- able running, shooting and even dunking during team drills, though he was still held out of the intense five-on-five scrimmage work. The long-term timetable has al- ways been to have Pflueger back and ready for the Irish season opener at North Carolina Nov. 6. And while Brey said Pflueger 's recovery is moving along well, and that his veteran guard could prob- ably play in the opener, that timeline remains subject to change. "I'll be darned if we're going to rush him to Nov. 6," said Brey, who believes early December is probably a more logical return date for Pflueger. "I said, 'Look, I know that we're trying to charge forward here. But if you're not ready to do this, we're not doing it.' "We're going to need him, but we also have to be smart about it." Pflueger insists that while his 23 games on the bench became torture at times last season — especially during a stretch where the Irish lost 13 of 15 games — he believes the lessons taught and learned then neatly transfer to now. " B e i n g a b l e to see the game from a differ- e n t p o i n t o f view, and just b e i n g a b l e t o t a l k t o [ m y t e a m m a t e s ] , " Pflueger said, "they teach me so much and hopefully I taught them some things." CAN'T GET RID OF HIM Had Pflueger's college plan stayed on course, he likely would already be playing professional basketball somewhere or starting a career in the business world — he has not ruled out someday becoming a sports agent. Instead, life mapped a cruel course that changed everything and could've crushed most anybody. But through a commitment to fam- ily and team, Charles "Rex" Pflueger is back for one last go-around, as per- haps the best player and person he has ever been. "Obviously he's handled a lot of stuff very well," Brey said of Pflueger's resiliency. "If anyone de- serves a good last year, isn't it Rex Pflueger?" ✦ "I ask you not to console us or cry with us, that time has come and I hope it's soon gone. Better to congratulate us on how fortunate we've been to have had her in our lives." RUSSELL PFLUEGER Head coach Mike Brey brought the entire team out to Southern California to support their team- mate Rex (at left, with arm wrapped around his father, Russell) and attend Rebecca Pflueger's memorial celebration in September. PHOTO COURTESY REX PFLUEGER

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