IOWA CITY — As he was sitting out last season with the Iowa basketball team, CJ Fredrick probably figured he would to have a battle on his hands if he wanted to get any playing time in the backcourt this season.
After all, the Hawkeyes had two junior guards, Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss, who each had started 94 consecutive games. Connor McCaffery and Maishe Dailey were entrenched as the backups behind them. And there was another talented point guard, Joe Toussaint, arriving in the fall.
A lot has changed since then. Dailey transferred to Akron University. Moss stunned many by leaving the Iowa program to enroll as a graduate transfer at Kansas. Bohannon underwent off-season hip surgery that has left his status for the coming season in doubt.
Fredrick has gone from hoping he will play to needing to play. There is a chance the 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman will find himself in the starting lineup if Bohannon isn’t ready.
He said he is ready for the challenge.
"It’s tough with JBo’s situation and then Zay heading to Kansas, but I’m excited," Fredrick admitted Thursday during a session with reporters. "I’m excited to get back to playing in front of the fans and doing what I can for the team. They’ve been great with me, not putting any pressure, just being supportive and saying ‘Just do what you do.’"
The Hawkeyes, who went 23-12 and got back into the NCAA tournament last season, have bolstered their backcourt depth a little with the addition of Bakari Evelyn, a graduate transfer from Valparaiso. But Evelyn still has some course work to complete and won’t arrive until the fall. He and the 5-11 Toussaint figure to be behind Fredrick in the pecking order.
"I think I’m going to have a pretty big role with this team, but I’m not looking at it like that," Fredrick said. "I’m looking at as just trying to do what I can to help us win. We have a lot of pieces, a lot of guys, so whatever they need me to do, I’m going to do."
Teammates who have watched Fredrick’s progression from his first arrival on campus last fall also think the kid is ready.
"He’s a competitor and he wants to do whatever he can to help us win," junior Cordell Pemsl said. "He’s been shooting the ball great, passing the ball, playing great defense. He’s a guy I definitely want on my team so I’m excited to have him in the rotation this year."
Fredrick admitted that redshirting last season was difficult, although he said it helped to have Pemsl and sophomore Jack Nunge going through the same thing with him. He recognizes that it was the "best decision personally that I could have made."
It gave him a chance to build up his body and improve in every facet of the game.
"I would say that about halfway through the season I could tell that my upper body was getting a lot stronger and I was a lot quicker, and just in practice I was a lot more confident," Fredrick said.
"My body definitely transformed through the whole season, which was great."
He was Kentucky’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2018, averaging 23.1 points per game and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range, but he feels as though he is a much more complete player now.
"In past years I would just say I was a really good shooter, but this past year practicing against a Top 25 team for most of the season has really expanded my game," he said. "I’m creating more on my shot, I’ve gotten better on defense, a lot better with the ball. I’m a pretty good ballhandler so I can play a little bit of point. Just a good all-around player."
He came in with a reputation as a player who was willing to hold his ground and take charges on defense. He suffered a broken rib before the season even began when he was trampled by Tyler Cook in practice, but said that still will be a big part of his game.
"My high school coach was big on taking charges and getting stops with tough defense," Fredrick said. "That’s kind of what I prided myself on and what I still pride myself on is really getting after it on defense, playing with a lot of energy. If someone needs a stop, I’m going to get a stop for them."