IOWA CITY — Jordan Bohannon was asked which of Iowa’s new young players is most likely to become a major factor this season and capture the enduring affection of Hawkeye basketball fans.
The reporter had barely finished spitting out his question when Bohannon delivered his answer. He didn’t need to even think about it before pointing to CJ Fredrick.
Iowa fans probably are going to like the diverse skill set of freshman Patrick McCaffery, they’ll appreciate the relentless approach of fellow freshman Joe Toussaint and they’ll enjoy the playmaking abilities of transfer Bakari Evelyn.
But Bohannon is pretty sure they will love CJ Fredrick.
"He’s a tough competitor. He’s one of those guys that will get into you defensively," Bohannon said. "He’s also one of those guys when he’s on your team and you see him battling defensively, you want to do the same thing. He’s one of those guys you want to have on your team."
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has not yet announced his starting lineup for Monday night’s exhibition game against Lindsey Wilson College, but there is a decent chance it will include Fredrick at the shooting guard position.
The 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman has made that much of an impression.
"He is a guy that understands the game," McCaffery said. "He's a winner."
Fredrick arrived at Iowa with a reputation as a big-time scorer. He led Covington Catholic High School to a Kentucky state championship as a senior, averaging 23.1 points per game and scoring 32 points in two of the three games in the state tournament, including the title game. He set school single-season and career records in almost every offensive category.
But Fredrick said there is a lot more to his game than just putting the ball in the hoop.
McCaffery refers to Fredrick as a "bucket-getter," but he also said this week that he has been the team’s best perimeter defender in preseason practices.
"I’ve always been known as a really good shooter so I can knock down shots, but I want to bring a little of everything," Fredrick said. "That’s something I’ve always been really good at. But the added strength and athleticism (from taking a redshirt season) really just makes it a lot better. Being able to rebound, defending the other team’s best player, playing helpside defense, helping my teammates, thinking the game. I think of myself as a smart basketball player."
Fredrick had plenty of offers coming out of Covington, but he committed to Iowa without even knowing if there would be a scholarship available. He was willing to come as a walk-on, if necessary.
It helped that his uncle, Joe Fredrick, played at Notre Dame when McCaffery was an assistant coach there.
"Sometimes you recruit a player that you see and you really like and you watch him on tape and you get to know him and you think you know him," McCaffery said. "But the reality is with CJ, we started recruiting him early, got to know him really well. Obviously I had history with his family anyway. We watched him practice, we watched him in AAU, we watched him for his high school team."
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McCaffery and others feel Fredrick could have helped the Hawkeyes considerably last season. His offensive abilities and high basketball IQ would have allowed him to overcome a slender frame.
With the Hawkeyes fairly well-stocked with guards, there was a chance he might have redshirted anyway. It became a certainty when he had his ribs broken in a violent collision with Tyler Cook in practice.
"I don’t want that to ever happen again," Fredrick said, managing to smile while recalling what it was like to be hit by a 250-pound truck that is now parked on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster. "That was probably one of the most painful injuries I’ve ever had.
"Coach was getting after us. ‘Nobody’s playing hard, nobody’s playing hard.’ So I saw Tyler at the top of the key and I was right in front of the arc. I saw him coming full speed and I thought ‘Coach said I’m not playing hard enough’ so I took the charge and I remember just flying in the air. I couldn’t breathe. It’s basketball. It happens."
Fredrick said it won’t stop him from stepping in front of hard-driving opponents in an effort to take charges in the future.
"My high school coach preached taking charges," he said. "You’re helping your teammates out. You’re putting them in a position to score. I’m a tough, gritty player. I love taking charges. I just love the feeling of the ref calling the charge. I think that’s something I’ll be able to bring here if I’m in the right position to take one."
In retrospect, Fredrick figures Cook did him a huge favor.
As frustrating as it was to sit and watch all season, he thinks redshirting is the best thing he could have done.
"I took a lot out of last year," he said. "Going out every day and practicing against Isaiah (Moss) and Jordan, just being able to read defenders, see how they’re playing you, just my pace. … This year I think I’m playing at a lot better pace for the whole game, making the right reads."
He also is now 195 pounds and quicker than he was when he was at 175.
"His redshirt year, I told him that’s the best thing he could have done …," Bohannon said. "The way he was able to work in the off-season and fully, totally change his body around. He’s a lot bigger now, a lot stronger, a lot faster. He’s really athletic. He can shoot the ball, take you off the dribble. He can do all these things that people will really open their eyes."
Fredrick figures to play almost exclusively as a shooting guard this season, but McCaffery said he can play point guard if he is needed there.
"The thing that really makes him difficult to guard is he's really good at getting rid of the ball …," the coach said. "He sees the floor extremely well and gets the ball out of his hands quickly when somebody is open."
Fredrick is just ready to go out and show what he can do rather than just talking about it.
"I’m beyond excited," he said. "I love the game of basketball and not being able to play last year, it sucks but it was the best decision for me. I’m just eager to get on the court and start playing again."