CJ Fredrick's emergence as supreme shooter providing big lift to No. 19 Hawkeyes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — If you had seen CJ Fredrick as a high school freshman, you would never have believed what he’s achieving as a college freshman.

“I was an overweight little standstill shooter in the corner,” Fredrick said Tuesday, trying to trace his evolution as a big-time shot-maker for the No. 19 Iowa men’s basketball team.

“I wasn’t the best basketball player. I was the eighth man on my freshman team. Basketball wasn’t really a big priority at the time.”

Two things quickly changed for Fredrick. He grew three inches and ended up with a slimmer frame.

And his uncle, Joe, pulled him aside for a life-changing conversation.

“If you’re serious about basketball, I think you have what it takes to be a really good basketball player,” Joe Fredrick told CJ. “But we’ve just got to live in the gym.”

Joe Fredrick played at Notre Dame, where he thrived in big moments. Fran McCaffery was an assistant coach then and remembers Joe Fredrick hitting game-winning shots against Indiana and LaSalle.

Joe Fredrick, who coached CJ at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, instilled those instincts in his nephew.

CJ Fredrick makes one of his 29 3-pointers this season, against Kennesaw State last month. The freshman guard has quickly become one of the most important players for the No. 19 Hawkeyes.

“He’s a big ego guy,” CJ said of his uncle, meaning that as the highest of compliments. “His presence is felt when you’re around him. He just played with a lot of swag, a lot of energy. So that’s something I learned from him.

“That’s just kind of how I like to play. I like to play with a lot of emotion, and I don’t like to carry myself as a younger guy.”

Joe Fredrick introduced CJ to McCaffery at a young age. He told his nephew stories about how much he enjoyed playing for McCaffery, of the freedom he was given in the offensive system. When CJ grew to 6-foot-3 and became skilled enough to be named the player of the year in Kentucky in 2018, there was never a question that he would end up playing for McCaffery at Iowa.

And that brings us to Wednesday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. No. 25 Rutgers (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten Conference) is ranked for the first time in 41 years and is facing Iowa (13-5, 4-3), which is on a three-game winning streak. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. Snow is in the forecast. There were 5,000 tickets remaining as of Tuesday afternoon. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network.

And it will be a chance for Fredrick to further his reputation as one of the best young shooting guards in America. Fredrick leads the Hawkeyes with 51% 3-point shooting accuracy (29-for-57). Iowa has won all five games in which he’s made at least three shots from that distance, including each of the past two when Fredrick returned to action from a stress reaction in his left foot.

He’s feeling no pain, Fredrick reported Tuesday.

And that has been obvious on the court. Fredrick played all 20 minutes of the second half of Iowa’s 90-83 win over Michigan on Friday. He tied his career-high with 21 points. He made two of the biggest shots of the game.

He did a little chirping.

“You can see him out on the court talking a little trash to the other team,” sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp said, approvingly. “He’s not going to back down. He’s confident in himself.”

That’s what McCaffery saw in the recruiting process, when Fredrick wasn’t getting a lot of major-college attention.

It’s what senior guard Jordan Bohannon noticed this spring and summer when Fredrick played against his Iowa teammates in open gyms after redshirting last season. Clutch shooters recognize other clutch shooters.

Bohannon is one. So is Wieskamp.

So is Fredrick.

“He’s playing almost a little better than I kind of anticipated,” Wieskamp said of Fredrick, who is third on the Hawkeyes at 11.1 points per game. “Obviously, I knew he was really talented. But I kind of expected him to struggle a little bit to start the year, just having the year off coming in as a redshirt freshman.

“But he’s jumped in right away and has played at an extremely high level.”

Fredrick made the biggest shot of the game late in Iowa’s win over Texas Tech in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thanksgiving. He put up 21 points in 37 minutes to help the Hawkeyes outlast his hometown Cincinnati team Dec. 21 in Chicago.

And he was instrumental in the victory over Michigan, when the Hawkeyes needed to erase a seven-point deficit late.

“He's just a guy that I think you feel like in a game like that he's got to be on the floor as much as possible,” McCaffery said when asked about riding with Fredrick for a team-high 38 minutes Friday.

Fredrick will be vital against Rutgers as well. This is a classic confrontation between a team that wants to push the pace (Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring at 79.9 points per game) and one that wants opponents to bleed and sweat for every basket (Rutgers is tops in the Big Ten by allowing only 58.7 points per contest).

“(Rutgers will be) bumping us off cuts, not letting an easy pass, so we’re going to have to be physical right back with them,” Wieskamp said. “Be physical before the cuts and try to create open space that way, but also being strong with the ball. They’re a team that lives off of live-ball turnovers (an average of seven steals per game, second in the Big Ten).”

Fredrick is fifth in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.2 to 1. That rate, combined with his accurate and timely shooting, explains why McCaffery finds it so difficult to put him on the bench.

“I was just really locked in and having fun, so I didn’t feel any tiredness,” Fredrick said of the second half against Michigan.

“I’m really not surprised with the way I’m playing. It’s just all about confidence and keeping that up.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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