There’s finally a dose of good news for the Kentucky basketball program in its search for more backcourt help heading into the 2021-22 season.
CJ Fredrick, a former Kentucky high school standout and sharp-shooting guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes the past two years, has committed to the Wildcats as a transfer. He will be eligible to play for UK immediately next season, and he’ll join a backcourt that has been heavy on departures and light on arrivals over the past few weeks.
Fredrick — a 6-foot-3 guard from Cincinnati — started all 52 games he played in with Iowa over the past two seasons, emerging as a top three-point shooting option and helping the Hawkeyes earn a top-10 national ranking and No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year.
In those 52 games, Fredrick has made 83 of 178 three-point attempts (46.6 percent), and he’s averaged 8.8 points per game in his college career so far while playing alongside national player of the year Luka Garza, who was the focal point of Iowa’s offense the past two seasons. He also has 121 assists to just 42 turnovers — a 2.88 assist/turnover ratio — in his first two college seasons. He had 52 assists and just 10 turnovers this past season.
Fredrick was linked to Kentucky as a possible transfer option before his name was even added to the NCAA portal this spring, and several other top schools — including Gonzaga, North Carolina and Virginia — reached out to express interest before he committed to the Wildcats.
“CJ Fredrick is an established college player from a terrific program who has competed at the highest level and has made big shots and big plays,” UK Coach John Calipari said in a statement. “As we all know, CJ is a terrific shooter, but what stuck out to me on tape is he takes care of the ball — he has an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio — and he can hold his own defensively. He guarded the best guard on the other team in just about everything I have seen.
“What I love about CJ is his approach in all of this. In every conversation I have had with him, he has a great plan of how he wants to improve and where he needs to take his game to get better. He wants to be challenged, he wants to be coached and he embraces competition.”
Fredrick will have three seasons of eligibility at UK, if he chooses to take the extra year of play the NCAA has granted to all student-athletes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s expected to be an impact player right away for the Wildcats.
“He’s a solid piece to come off the bench, and obviously given Kentucky’s current backcourt — what it’s looking like for next season at this exact moment — there could be some serious opportunity for him to get some big minutes,” 247Sports analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader. “He definitely provides a boost on the perimeter with his jump shot. That’s definitely a necessity — a big need for the Kentucky program.”
Fredrick joins a Kentucky roster that’s far from settled, especially in the backcourt.
It’s possible that shooting guard Dontaie Allen will be the only returning perimeter player from this past season’s team. Former Davidson star Kellan Grady — a 2,000-point scorer at the mid-major level — announced his transfer to Kentucky earlier this spring, and Fredrick is now just the third guard projected to be on next season’s roster. (UK has actually not yet confirmed that Allen will return to next season, though he is expected to be back).
Earlier this week, Davion Mintz — the leading scorer and three-point shooter for the Cats last season — announced that he would declare for the NBA Draft process, though he’s leaving open the option of a return to school. He has until July 7 to make that decision.
Late last week, point guard signee Nolan Hickman asked for a release from his letter of intent, leaving UK with no backcourt players in its 2021 recruiting class and no point guards on its roster following freshman Devin Askew’s transfer to Texas after the season.
Earlier this spring, freshman guards Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke declared for the NBA Draft. Clarke was tragically killed in a car accident last month.
Fredrick’s fit at Kentucky
For now, Fredrick joins Allen and Grady as the only guards on next season’s roster, with Mintz’s decision pending and Kentucky certain to add one or two other backcourt players in the coming weeks.
Fredrick was a star player at Covington Catholic in high school, averaging 23.1 points per game and shooting 49 percent from three-point range as a senior, leading the team to the 2018 state championship in Rupp Arena that season. Fredrick scored 32 points in the state title game and was named the Sweet Sixteen’s most valuable player.
“I am very excited for this new opportunity in my basketball career,” Fredrick said Wednesday. “I really appreciate the confidence Coach Cal has in me. I am looking forward to going to work and developing as a player with Coach Cal, the staff and my future teammates. Thank you to Coach (Fran) McCaffery, the staff, my teammates and Iowa fans for three memorable years. I cannot wait to get back on the floor at Rupp Arena to help this team win and make Big Blue Nation proud.”
He was not a nationally touted recruit — ranked just No. 242 in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite rankings — and sat out his first year at Iowa as a redshirt before transforming into a freshman starter in the 2019-20 season.
Fredrick had foot surgery last summer, and McCaffery said after the Hawkeyes’ NCAA Tournament loss in March that Fredrick, whose stats dipped a bit as a sophomore, had been playing with a plantar fasciitis injury for much of the 2020-21 season.
He’s expected to be at full health for his first season at Kentucky, and the Wildcats should be able to use his shooting skills to be more of a perimeter shot-making threat than they have been in some previous seasons.
All three of Kentucky’s projected guards were good-to-great three-point shooters this past season: Grady at 38.2 percent, Allen at 39.7 percent and Fredrick at 47.4 percent. Mintz shot 37.8 percent from deep and could be part of that group next season.
UK is still in search of a starting point guard for the 2021-22 campaign. Whoever that is will have plenty of offensive weapons along the perimeter.
“It’ll definitely open the floor up a lot more than what we’ve seen in some of the years past,” Branham said. “It definitely will provide a lot more driving lanes for other guards to operate in. And, obviously, at this point, who the guard is that will be allowed to go out there and make those plays and attack a defense — it’s definitely to be determined. But, yes … having those guys definitely spaces the floor and allows whoever that next point guard is to come in and really have some room to operate and make things happen.”