Iowa basketball: Kentucky star CJ Fredrick brings self-made game to Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

One of Tom Crean’s final recruiting decisions as Indiana head coach was to offer CJ Fredrick in February of his junior year.

Covington Catholic's C.J. Fredrick,1, left, drives to the basket against Scott County's Cooper Robb, 10, during the championship game of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet 16 basketball tournament played at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Sunday March 18, 2018.

"Crean told me that he was every bit as good as Kirk Hinrich at this age," remembered CJ’s uncle Joe Fredrick, who was heavily involved in his nephew’s recruitment.

"He recruited Kirk Hinrich, and said this is who he expected him to be like."

Hinrich starred for Sioux City West in the late 1990s as a do-it-all guard. He became one of the state’s most sought-after recruits and picked Kansas over Oklahoma and Iowa State. Four years later, he was drafted seventh overall in 2003 and he enjoyed a successful 14-year NBA career.

Fredrick, obviously, is only beginning his basketball career.

Like Hinrich, he was an do-it-all guard in high school. He was the focal point of northern Kentucky’s Covington Catholic, which USA TODAY Sports ranks the No. 25 team in the country. He picked Iowa over top-10 programs Xavier and Cincinnati, as well as Butler, Indiana and Penn State.

CJ Fredrick drives the lane and drops in two pints for Covington Catholic in their win over Fern Creek, at the KHSAA Basktball Tournament "Elite Eight", Lexington, KY, March 16, 2018.

But when you’re the other half of an Iowa recruiting class with Iowa basketball mega-star Joe Wieskamp, you’re not going to garner as much fanfare.

You might be forgotten.

That could change, though. Soon.

Fredrick lit up Kentucky this season. He scored 23.1 points per game on 58.3 percent shooting and 48.9 percent from long range against a high level, playing teams like MaxPreps No. 39 Leesburg (Florida) and Archbishop Moeller (Ohio), which USA TODAY Sports ranked No. 17 when Covington Catholic beat it Dec. 12. He led Covington Catholic to a 34-4 record and the state title, earning Gatorade’s Kentucky player of the year honors along the way.

After the state tournament, Joe Fredrick said people have asked him every day why his nephew isn’t playing for Xavier or Cincinnati.

In other words: CJ Fredrick may be a steal.

"You go from where he was, where he didn't start on the freshman team, to today, where the whole state of Kentucky is saying 'How did (Kentucky head coach John) Calipari not offer this kid?'" said Joe Fredrick, who’s also an assistant coach at Covington Catholic. "That’s how far it’s come."

Product of the Hurley system

Scott Ruthsatz took over at Covington Catholic in 2011.

Before that, he spent three seasons as an assistant coach for basketball legend Bobby Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Hurley is one of just a few high school coaches in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His sons, Bobby and Dan, currently coach Arizona State and UConn, respectively. And his former players include San Antonio Spurs forward Kyle Anderson, current Nevada star Hallice Cook, four-year Kansas starter Tyshawn Taylor and countless other standouts in the college and professional ranks.

Bobby Hurley Sr., the father of ASU head basketball coach Bobby Hurley, watches the game against Houston Baptist in Tempe on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015.

Ruthsatz said he took notes every day while working with Hurley. He still calls him to pick his former boss' brain.

"He’s taken the 'Hurley Culture' to this little school in northern Kentucky," Joe Fredrick said of Ruthsatz.

And CJ Fredrick, Ruthsatz said, is a perfect product of that.

"He’ll be a pure competitor (at Iowa)," Ruthsatz said. "That’s the other thing I learned from Coach Hurley: A lot of programs prepare their guys to get a scholarship and maybe they sit at the end of the bench for a year or two and maybe get a chance to play. Not Coach Hurley — they’re going to take somebody’s spot Year One. 

"You don't want a mindset of going in and 'I’ll wait my turn.' No. Let’s go in and let’s compete."

So, what exactly does the Hurley culture look like at Covington Catholic?

Rigorous practice six — sometimes seven — days a week during the offseason. Game-speed drills and no out-of-bounds to bail anybody out in open gym. Scheduling some of the best schools in the country or playing in Louisville’s stacked King of the Bluegrass tournament in order to prepare your players for the next level.

"Coach, he’s a really good Xs and Os coach, but I think he's the best at mentally getting you prepared," CJ Fredrick said. "He always talks about how Coach Hurley would mentally prepare you for any obstacle."

"Basically, we’ve got a college coach running a high school program," Joe Fredrick added.

Covington Catholic head coach Scott Ruthsatz, instructs his team against Oldham County during a semi final game of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet 16 basketball tournament played at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Saturday March 17, 2018.

Fredrick took it a step further, though. Here’s what his "offseason" schedule looked like at Covington Catholic …

  • Monday: Get to open gym two hours early at 4 p.m. for individual work with an assistant coach until 5:30; open gym from 6-7:30; head over to a local community college and sprint up the main building's 200 or so steps at 8.
  • Tuesday: Team conditioning from 3-4 p.m. and individual workouts from 4:30-6.
  • Wednesday: Same as Monday.
  • Thursday: Same as Tuesday.
  • Friday: Shoot 1,500 shots in the gym.
  • Saturday: Open gym at 8 in the morning, find another open gym at another school when Covington Catholic’s is over.
  • Sunday: Double sessions of workouts.

Why so much?

"Because I knew basketball was the one thing I loved and wanted to do," Fredrick said.

Not just a shooter

One of the biggest misconceptions about his nephew, Joe Fredrick said, is he’s just a shooter — that he’ll only be a spot-up corner 3-pointer guy in Iowa City.

"Misled," he said of the folks who think that.

CJ Fredrick grew up just outside Cincinnati. As a kid, he said he was fortunate enough to be brought into the local Friar’s Club, an organization that helps mentor kids and keep them off the streets through sports, among other activities.

When he and his teammates weren’t dominating local tournaments, they’d dominate the playgrounds of Cincinnati.

That’s where Fredrick really learned the game.

Still, shooting was his strong suit, and Fredrick admits he relied on it too much through his first couple years of high school, when colleges showed only slight interest.

"That was the one thing college coaches kept telling me: You’ve really got to get a game — a full game," Fredrick said. "And that just motivated me and just started to turn all my attention toward actually getting a real game."

CJ Fredrick of Covington Catholic eyes a short jump shot for the Colonels at the KHSAA Basktball Tournament "Elite Eight", Lexington, KY, March 16, 2018.

Fredrick said he heard those criticisms the summer after his sophomore year. Then, he earned a spot on Indiana Elite, a top-tier adidas AAU team. He said his time with that team — and individual summer workouts with his Covington Catholic coaches — developed his full game.

He started slashing inside and beating guys off the dribble. He developed a pace to his game to help his penetration skills.

And soon, offers came.

First it was Ball State in August before his junior year. Next was Miami of Ohio in early September. Iowa and Fran McCaffery, who was Joe Fredrick’s assistant coach at Notre Dame, offered in late September, and Butler offered in November. Offers from Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska, Xavier and Cincinnati came as his junior season progressed.

"The kid can score it," Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis told the Register in February.

Ruthsatz said Hurley taught him how to make good players great, and great players special. He said Fredrick became special this year.

"The secret sauce with CJ is his passing ability," Ruthsatz said of Fredrick, who averaged 3.9 assists this season. "He might be a great shooter and he can go off the bounce and he can spot up. But, at the end of the day, he’s never going to take a bad shot. He’s going to pass up a good shot for a great shot."

"I’ve never seen a kid keep improving to the level that he has," Joe Fredrick added. "He just keeps getting better and better and better."

Now, CJ Fredrick said he'll take a couple weeks off before entering his first official offseason as a Hawkeye. (Although Joe Fredrick said he was shooting baskets in the gym Thursday. "That's 'off' to him," Joe laughed.)

Fredrick said he wants to work on his strength and ball-handling, in particular, so he can compete with the combo guards of the Big Ten Conference.

He transformed himself from a shooter to a player in high school. He’s eager to become a college-ready combo guard.

“I’ll be ready for more obstacles to come,” he said.

Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.