LEXINGTON — While running down a list of reasons he is excited about his 2022-23 Kentucky basketball roster after an autograph signing in Louisville, the relief in John Calipari’s voice was clear.
“CJ (Fredrick) is getting healthy,” Calipari said. “Thank goodness we can start with him now.”
Fredrick does not easily fit into either the group of returning Wildcats looking to make a leap in production or the group of fresh faces working to make an immediate impact.
The former Covington Catholic High School star transferred to Kentucky from Iowa a year ago but missed the entire 2021-22 season with a hamstring injury. Fredrick arrived on campus with a reputation as one of college basketball’s best 3-point shooters, but Kentucky fans’ lone chance to see that talent came in the 2021 Big Blue Madness 3-point contest.
“People have forgot about CJ,” Calipari said in a radio appearance this spring. “You forget. He’s like Kellan (Grady).”
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If healthy, Fredrick’s role for Kentucky is clear.
In two seasons at Iowa, he converted 46.6% (83 for 178) of his 3-point attempts. As a redshirt freshman, Fredrick averaged 10.2 points per game in 25 games. As a sophomore, I have averaged 7.5 points per game in 27 games.
The “if healthy” part of that equation remains a question, though.
Fredrick started all 52 games he appeared in at Iowa but missed six games as a redshirt freshman and four as a sophomore. Between those two seasons, Fredrick underwent foot surgery.
After arriving in Lexington last spring, Fredrick suffered a leg injury that required surgery in July. The recovery delayed his start to preseason practice. On his first day back from him, he strained his hamstring, sidelining him for another three weeks. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cincinnati native was cleared to play just before the start of the season but then reinjured his hamstring during warmups before the opener in Madison Square Garden.
This time, surgery was needed that would cause him to miss the entire season.
Fredrick returned to the fold for Kentucky this summer but is being eased back into action in advance of the Wildcats’ four August exhibition games in the Bahamas. It would be a surprise to see Fredrick or any of his teammates play a normal in-season amount of minutes in those games, but they could give fans the first opportunity to watch Fredrick against outside competition in a Kentucky jersey.
What would a healthy Fredrick add to the team?
“We expect him to make shots,” reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe said. “That boy has been in the gym. He’s shooting. I was watching him two days ago. He was shooting and he made, like, 35 in a row. I was like, man, that’s crazy.”
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Only one Kentucky player in the Calipari era has bested Fredrick’s career 3-point success rate for even a single season. While Fredrick is unlikely to be the go-to scorer in Kentucky’s offense in the same way sharp-shooters Jamal Murray and Malik Monk were during their season in Lexington, a healthy season could easily place him among the best shooters during Calipari’s Kentucky tenure.
Here are three former Wildcats whose role Fredrick could duplicate if healthy:
As a freshman, Lamb set the Calipari was record by shooting 48.6% from 3-point range. He followed that by shooting 46.6% — second best of any player for a single season in the Calipari era — as a sophomore for the 2012 national championship team. Lamb ranks just sixth and seventh on the Calipari era list of most 3s made in a season, though, with 76 as a sophomore and 68 as a freshman. Lamb was never the go-to option on two Final Four teams, but he was an essential piece to those squads success. He led UK with 22 points in the 2012 title game, hitting 3 of 6 3-point attempts. A similar season from Fredrick would be a rousing success.
Perhaps the best comparison is the player Fredrick could replace in the Kentucky starting lineup if he beats out Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves for a spot in the Wildcat backcourt. Grady shot a career-best 41.5% from 3-point range in his one season at Kentucky, making the third-most 3s of any player in the Calipari era (88). The pieces around Fredrick should be similar with freshman Wallace replacing TyTy Washington as a second point guard and Jacob Toppin replacing Keion Brooks as an athletic four. That lineup would allow Fredrick to camp out on the perimeter for open jump shots like Grady did.
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No, Fredrick is not the current version of Booker who has developed into one of the best scorers in the NBA. But he could be something close to what Booker was as a freshman at Kentucky, especially if his minutes are limited in the return from injury. Booker did not start a single game in his one year at Kentucky, averaging 21.5 minutes per game on a deep roster that used a two-platoon system early in the season. He shot 41.1% from 3-point range, converting 58 of 141 attempts from long range on the season.
Email Jon Hale at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.