The mental side of the game: CJ Fredrick struggles after strong start


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats guard CJ Fredrick (1) guards Yale Bulldogs guard August Mahoney (3) during the No. 16 Kentucky vs. Yale mens basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 69-59. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Redshirt senior guard CJ Fredrick entered the 2022-2023 season with high expectations, having missed his first year in Lexington after a season-ending injury before the first game.

Fredrick transferred to Kentucky from Iowa, with head coach John Calipari hoping that the Cincinnati native could be a sharpshooter to heavily boost the depth of his squad.

Fredrick impressed early too, scoring 14 or more points in three of the first four games of the 2022-2023 season but, like a match, his flame that once burned so brightly has quickly disappeared.

Since then, Fredrick has scored three or fewer points in four of UK’s last five games.

In fact, since the Wildcats beat South Carolina State on Nov. 17, in which Fredrick scored 17 points, the only game in which the Covington Catholic graduate scored double digits was on Nov. 29 against Bellarmine when he netted 11.

Looking at the percentages, apart from the Champions Classic against Michigan State, in which Fredrick shot 16% from beyond the arc, he had been shooting 40% or better in every game prior to the trip to Spokane against Gonzaga.

Since then, he has gone 1-6 (16%) against Gonzaga, 0-1 against North Florida, 3-7 (42%) against Bellarmine, 1-3 (33%) against Michigan and, most recently, 0-0 against Yale.

The slump is clearly one Fredrick himself is aware of as he refused to take a deep shot against the Bulldogs, but from the field overall he still finished 0-2.

“When you put pressure on yourself, you’re killing yourself,” Fredrick’s teammate Oscar Tshiebwe said after the game. “If I come in thinking about doing good, I’m not going to do good. Just be you and enjoy your time. I told him (CJ) that I have a ‘three’ strategy for what to do if I come in. I do a couple of things good: finish strong, rebound and run. If I’m not really finishing good, I know I have to fight (harder) for rebounds. If I’m not rebounding good, I have to make them run. Just choose one thing you are doing the best to try to help your team.”

Tshiebwe was not the only teammate to offer advice to the sharpshooter and say they intend to help him, with Kentucky point guard Sahvir Wheeler saying similar things postgame.

“He started off the year so crazy, I think teams just started to (put) emphasis on the career 50% 3-point shooter,” Wheeler said. “(Because of that), it can be hard to get him some shots, but we’re definitely going to keep watching film and find ways. Give it a game or so and he’ll be back. I’m going to make sure I try to give him some looks and stay in his ear about staying aggressive and (being versatile) so they have to change the way they play against (him).”

The confidence in Fredrick to bounce back from his slump was not only echoed by the players, but by Calipari as well.

“The game played out differently than I wanted (it) to, but I haven’t lost any faith in him (CJ),” he said. “If someone is playing better than they’re going to play more and when I put him in the second time I said, ‘Look kid, just shoot the ball. If you’re free, let it go.’ This was just one of those games with the movement mapping, dribble handoff, that kind of stuff.”

Luckily for the Wildcats, the team boasts not just the one transfer sharpshooter but two, with former Illinois State Redbird Antonio Reeves filling in Fredrick’s role whilst the former Hawkeye has struggled.

Reeves has consistently been one of the best shooters on the team, recording five games in which he was 50% or better from beyond the arc.

The senior shot 75% (3-4) against Michigan in London and 50% (3-6 and 4-8) against both Bellarmine and North Florida.

While he went just 1-3 against Yale, Reeves still finished the day with 10 points, having only one game thus far this season with a single-digit point total, somewhat limiting how much the Wildcats have been hurt by Fredrick’s slump.

Whether or not Fredrick will bounce back and grant the Wildcats the two aces Calipari expected to have is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: those inside the Kentucky program still have faith in him to perform at the highest level, it’s just up to him to do it.

The Wildcats return to action on Saturday, Dec. 17, inside Madison Square Garden against No. 16 UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. Tip off against the Bruins is expected for 5:15 p.m. EST and will air live on CBS.