It’s been an off-season unlike any other in Lexington, one filled with coaching changes, transfer portal activity and a months long pursuit of a point guard that has yet to conclude. Still, slowly but surely, the 2021-2022 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team – both players and coaches – are slowly starting to come together.
One of the biggest additions to that roster is also one that was most expected, as Iowa guard CJ Fredrick officially committed to the Wildcats late last week.
At this point, we know plenty about what the former Kentucky High School Player of the Year in Lexington – mostly elite shooting and a pride in wearing his local team’s home jersey on game day. But still, there is quite a bit we don’t know about Fredrick as well.
This week, KSR reached out to someone familiar with the Iowa program for insight on who Fredrick is and what he will bring to the Kentucky basketball program this spring, summer and into next year.
Out of respect to this person we have kept their name private, but as you’ll soon see, he knows Iowa basketball well.
Now, here is what you, the Kentucky fan, needs to know about your newest Wildcat:
Q. First off, tell us what kind of kid CJ is? On the court. Off the court. Quiet? Shy? Outgoing? Funny?
A. CJ is a very outgoing and funny person off the court, but on the court, he is one of the most business-like and focused players around. He has always been very social and thrives off his teammates. Lastly, he is very close with his family and makes that a priority in his life. On the court, he goes about his business quietly but will always work incredibly hard to fine-tune his craft. CJ ensures that he works in a quiet manner without promoting himself or anything like that.
Q. Outside of the obvious – incredible shooting – what do you believe he will bring to Kentucky next year?
A. Yeah, that’s a great question, because on the surface, a casual fan immediately sees the floor spacing impact that he has. However, his ball security will help Kentucky immensely next season. Over the course of the 16 games that CJ played in during the regular Big Ten season, he combined for just two turnovers. Over the course of the entire season, he has a turnover rate of 6.9 (3rd lowest of any high-major player). He won’t make too many flashy passes and is not the most ball dominant player, but his poise and steadiness will help a Kentucky team that turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of its possessions last season.
Q. What is his work ethic like behind the scenes? You don’t get to be a 47 percent three point shooter without putting in the work, right?
A. Not at all. His work ethic has immensely impressed me over the last three years. Obviously, he focuses a lot on his shot, but he also works on ball-handling and other dribbling moves. To add, he has developed a polished floater package as well as crafty finishes around the rim. We have also worked very hard on moving up his release point in order to get his shot off quicker to counter defenses closing out harder. Lastly, he has made it a priority to be able to shoot off the move, off the dribble, and off various screening actions to expand his shooting repertoire.
Q. What other skills does he have, that maybe fans aren’t quite aware of (this may be repetitive of Question No. 2, so if so, just skip it)?
A. Yeah, other than his ball security, I think that an underrated skill of his is just his ability to pick his spots and not rely on being a ball dominant player. Over the course of his two-year career, he has only averaged 6.5 field goal attempts per game. His ability to be ruthlessly efficient, while not taking demanding too many shots, is an underrated skill, since over the course of a 40-minute game, there are only a certain number of shots that can be taken. Lastly, his gravity as an off-ball shooter will demand the defense to pay attention to him wherever he is on the court.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) May 5, 2021
Q. There’s been talk that CJ in transferring to Kentucky, CJ has made it clear that he doesn’t care about cosmetic things, like number of shots he will take, or being a starter, or minutes played. Does that jive with the guy you worked with?
A. Yes, 100%. As mentioned above, he doesn’t rely on taking too many shots and has an innate ability to pick his spots while letting the game come to him naturally. Obviously, fans like to make a big deal out of the starting lineup, but what truly matters is who ends the game in clutch situations for a team. While there is a very real scenario where CJ might not start, it is hard to envision a scenario where he doesn’t close a game due to his ball security and gravity as a shooter.
Q. CJ dealt with a handful of different injuries this past season. Is this something you think fans should at all be concerned with?
A. Yeah, that obviously should be a concern of fans. The best ability is availability, and CJ has missed enough time over the last two years to make that a fair concern. However, I think playing less minutes in a reserve role will take more of a load off his body and as he gets older, understanding what he can/can’t do training and conditioning wise will be important.
Q. This might be an overlap of the previous questions, but one thing that Kentucky lacked this past season was maturity. Along with many deficiencies, that is one thing they hopefully addressed in the portal this off-season. Is maturity a trait that CJ will bring to this year’s Wildcat squad?
A. No doubt about that. Iowa has been a top-tier program in the Big Ten these last two seasons and the Big Ten has been the best and deepest conference in college basketball as well. Going to hostile road environments like Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois, and many more, gives any player a sense of maturity and battle scars that other conferences and high school basketball can’t provide.
Beyond just that, practicing against one the best teams in the country for the last three seasons helps any player continually get better every day. Lastly, during his redshirt season, CJ was able to travel with the team and get a courtside view of the game while getting a taste of the road environments. To go along with this, he was able to practice against a Top 25 ranked team and work out a ton on off days and after practice.
Q. How excited do you think CJ is, as a Kentucky area native, to wear that “KENTUCKY” across his chest?
A. I think he is very excited. However, CJ is just a pure baller. He has never been big into the fanfare as he quietly will go about his business. Despite that, he did win his state championship inside the famous Rupp Arena, and it must be meaningful to return there as a player wearing the Kentucky uniform.
Q. You’re a basketball junkie. Pending what happens at point guard, how do you like the rest of the pieces Kentucky has brought in this summer?
A. Yeah, I have been thinking about this a lot and I really like the pieces. For starters, I think that Oscar Tshiebwe has been largely forgotten by many people, but he has been practicing with the team for the last semester which will help him greatly. In addition, there are only two players since the 2007-2008 season (basically a decade-and-a-half) who have over the course of their career recorded an offensive rebound rate of greater than 18 percent, a defensive rebound rate of greater than 25 percent and a block rate of 4.5 percent: Kenneth Faried and Oscar Tshiebwe.
To go along with that, Kellen Grady has been the epitome of consistency the past four seasons at Davidson and will provide a versatile scoring option for them and a capable defender. At 6’5” and 205 lbs., Grady will be able to guard most to all the wings that he will face on UK’s schedule. Having Grady, CJ, and Dontaie Allen at the two and three positions, gives Kentucky obviously lethal shooting ability, but also won’t take too many shots away from the other players on the roster and the interior attack of Tshiebwe and Collins and the slashing ability of Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin.
I think the most important aspect of all this will be to play three guards most to all of the time, unless UK faces lineup that overpowers them inside with size and strength. I think the vast array options at the four and five between Keion Brooks and Jacob Toppin, Tshiebwe, and Daimion Collins, allows Kentucky to play with a lineup versatility and adaptability that is super important when facing all of the diverse opponents that they play against. Not to mention Lance Ware who can provide tough spot minutes as a strong 5 man and Bryce Hopkins who can provide a bigger and stronger option at the 3 position, if necessary.
Overall, pending what happens at point guard, I really like how all of the pieces fit together. While this may not be the most talented Kentucky team ever, the versatility, shooting, and interior defense gives UK so many options moving forward. Being able to land a point guard and convincing Davion Mintz to return to Lexington for one more season should be the top two priorities moving forward.
(To listen to more on CJ Fredrick’s commitment to Kentucky, you can download last Friday’s Aaron Torres Podcast here, or listen below)