IOWA CITY, Ia. — Five days a week last winter, Jack Nunge and CJ Fredrick would isolate themselves from their Iowa basketball teammates and prepare for a time when their names would be called out over the public-address system at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Strength coach Bill Maxwell was their supervisor. It was just the three of them in a weight room that also must have felt like a wait room.
The workouts were intense. So was the bond the players formed.
“You’re used to the whole team being in there, but it was just me and coach and CJ getting after it,” said Nunge, who chose to redshirt in his second season at Iowa after averaging 5.7 points as a freshman.
Nunge, the tallest player on the Hawkeye team at 6-feet, 11 ½ inches, added 15 pounds to check in at 245. The goal was to reinvent himself as more of a low-post player who can still make defenses pay when he steps out to the 3-point arc.
Fredrick, a shooting guard, came to Iowa at 170 pounds on his 6-3 frame, and knew that probably wasn’t sufficient for Big Ten Conference battles. The fact that he broke a rib early on in practices while taking a charge from power forward Tyler Cook sealed his decision to take a year off. He’s at 195 pounds now.
“My speed and strength are really helping me. Coming off screens, I can come off much tighter. I can seal guys on my back and create the separation I want to,” Fredrick said. “I can take the hit and keep going and (am) finishing around the rim a lot better.”
There was more asked of Nunge and Fredrick than just lifting weights, of course. When they were still exhausted from that, they’d come out to the practice court and be part of Iowa’s scout team. That’s where another bond formed.
“He’s a real fun guy to play with because he’s a great passer, great shooter, great defender,” Nunge said of Fredrick.
The wait is over.
Hawkeye fans will get to see for themselves, starting at 7 p.m. Monday with an exhibition game against Lindsey Wilson College at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It’s likely that new friends Nunge and Fredrick will be in the starting lineup together. And it’s also likely that how those two perform will determine how high Iowa is able to climb in the Big Ten standings.
The Hawkeyes have a star at small forward in sophomore Joe Wieskamp. They have a proven commodity at center in junior Luka Garza. They have a big question mark at point guard after senior Jordan Bohannon had hip surgery in May; he will try to give it a go in early-season games but is doubtful to be able to play the duration of the season.
What the Hawkeyes are surely missing is Cook’s muscle inside, and his team-leading 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. And they are lacking Isaiah Moss’ ability to score in bulk on the perimeter and in the open court. Moss, who transferred to Kansas, averaged 9.2 points on 42% shooting from the 3-point line.
“He took it upon himself after his freshman year to improve a lot, and he did it," Garza said of Nunge. "He stretches the floor just as well as anyone in the country. He’s gotten way more comfortable on the block. He has moves to go to. He scores with both shoulders."
“It’s tough to guard us. Because both of us can stretch the floor. Both of us can post up. And we’re both unselfish guys. I run to the rim; he trails usually. You’ve got to get right on Jack, so that leaves me way more space in the post.”
“He's a big-time scorer. He's a bucket-getter. He can create his own. He can get baskets within the offense,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
“He sees the floor extremely well and gets the ball out of his hands quickly when somebody is open.”
Enter the 2019-20 Hawkeyes, who barely resemble the version that went 23-12 a year ago.
Nunge and Fredrick barely resemble the athletes they were a year ago. They are bigger and stronger.
And ready for their turn to take the stage.
“I hope to be someone who gives a little bit of everything on the court,” Fredrick said. “I can make shots. I can make plays. I like to rebound. I like to get after it on defense. Just being ‘that guy,’ being able to separate yourself. Just being tough and gritty.
“Just someone, if you go on the road, they might not like you. But here, they’re going to love you.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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