Injuries sidelined CJ Fredrick for his entire first Kentucky season. Yet, he is seen as a veteran presence on the 2022-23 UK team.
“This is my second year at Kentucky,” he said Friday. “And you don’t see guys stay more than one year normally. So, I feel like I’m a veteran here. I feel like I know everything. I know (Coach John Calipari). I know all the plays. . . .
“It’s almost been a blessing in disguise.”
Teammate and junior-to-be Lance Ware saluted the leadership Fredrick can provide next season. Besides the experience that he came with watching the UK team last season, Fredrick also started 52 games in two seasons for Iowa before transferring to Kentucky.
“He brings experience from that,” Ware said. “He shows you a lot. He’ll talk you through stuff. Even a guy likes me, I’ll ask him questions, and he’ll give me good answers. So, he’s a good teammate.”
This led to a playful suggestion that Fredrick might supplant his roommate last season, Kellan Grady, as the UK team’s “Granddad.”
Fredrick, who turns 23 on July 10, declined the honorary title.
“I’m not Granddad,” he said. “That’s Kellan.”
But even a granddad may have lessons to learn.
Fredrick’s unwanted experience dealing with injuries began with what he called “a little hamstring strain” in the preseason. He said he spent about 2 1/2 to three weeks in rehabilitation.
“I felt fine with everything,” he said. “Then, I guess, maybe it was too fast.”
This began to hit home during warm-ups for Kentucky’s opening game against Duke.
“I felt something,” he said. “I heard a pop. But when you’re in (Madison Square) Garden and getting ready to play Duke, you know you don’t think of what just happened to your leg. I just went to my normal routine. If ‘Coach’ needed me, I was going to be ready to play.”
Fredrick did not play against Duke. And by the time the UK team returned to Lexington, the prospect of playing anytime soon was in doubt.
“When I got off the plane, my leg was so swollen, and I knew something was wrong,” Fredrick said. “Eventually, they told me I tore my hamstring.”
That necessitated a second surgery on the leg. The first came in the preseason.
“The first one took a lot out of me,” he said. “But the second one, I really tried not to let it affect me at all. But it just kind of sucked. You miss the game you love for a whole season.”
Fredrick pronounced himself healthy. But I have added a qualifier.
“This is probably the most athletic and most quick I’ve ever been in my career,” he said. “So, I’m feeling really good about this season.”
But he cautioned against assuming this will be apparent when Kentucky plays August exhibition games in the Bahamas.
“I’m good to go, but they can’t just throw me out there and expect me to play,” he said. “So, we have a good plan, a good five-week plan that leads up to the Bahamas practices. And that should have me where I need to be. . . . The plan is to play in the Bahamas.”
Having made 46.1 percent and 47.4 percent of his three-point shots in two seasons for Iowa, Fredrick is expected to be a reliable three-point shooting threat for Kentucky. Unlike many players, he did not mind being labeled a shooter. He said that he had been his basketball ID since the eighth grade.
“That’s just going to stay with me probably till I’m done playing basketball,” he said. “I can really shoot the ball. But I like to be able to do other things. Play off screens. Create for my teammates. Get in the lane (for) floaters and pull-up jumpers.”
Fredrick also said he can meet Calipari’s standard for playing time: playing good defense.
“I don’t know why everybody thinks I’m a bad defender,” he said. “Even in high school and even in college, I’ve been one of the best defenders on my team.”
But shooting is important, too. Kentucky proved that in the losses to Tennessee and Saint Peter’s that ended last season. UK made six of 35 three-point shots in that two-game span.
Fredrick credited his father, Chuck, and uncle, Joe, for making him a good shooter. His father of him, who coached him in middle school, taught him the proper shooting mechanics.
Joe, a two-time captain at Notre Dame and holder of the program’s career record for three-point shooting accuracy (49 percent), was an assistant coach at Covington Catholic High School when CJ played there.
“Working with him for four years definitely, definitely, developed my game in a huge way,” Fredrick said of his uncle.