PARK HILLS, Ky. – The minute CJ Fredrick began walking, his attention turned to perfecting his shot.
A 3-year-old CJ would roll up his socks, stand back and throw them in an open plastic drawer in his room.
“I just said, ‘we need to get this boy a basketball hoop,’” his mother, Laura said this week. “That’s when we got the real deal outside. I’m not talking about the Nerf thing.”
Eventually, Laura and her husband, Chuck, put a basketball hoop outside. They also installed one into CJ’s wall when he was 6.
CJ was hooked. Basketball was in his blood.
“I remember that I wouldn’t leave my room,” the Covington Catholic senior guard said after a recent practice. “They would have to drag me downstairs to dinner.”
Little has changed in that regard for the 18-year-old. His love of basketball is genuine. He still closes the door to his room and takes a few shots. Basketball is his passion.
“It’s what I do,” CJ said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
That may not be surprising for those who know the University of Iowa signee. His genes certainly help.
His father, Chuck Fredrick, was a standout basketball player at Greenhills High School and graduated in 1980 as the school’s all-time boys basketball scoring leader.
Joe Fredrick, CJ’s uncle and a CovCath assistant coach, surpassed Chuck by the time he graduated in 1986. Joe went on to have a standout career at Notre Dame.
Charlie Fredrick, CJ’s grandfather, played football at Notre Dame and spent almost four decades in coaching and sport administration in Greater Cincinnati.
Yet nothing was handed to CJ. Chuck didn't push CJ. He just wanted his son to follow his passion.
CJ didn’t make the varsity as a freshman at CovCath. He soon made it clear to his family he was willing to put the time and effort to one day become a Division I college player.
His time in the gym and the weight room is part of his DNA.
“CJ is like the epitome of what hard work does,” CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz said.
Fredrick, who lives in Hyde Park, wants to be a college basketball coach one day. That coaching ability is inherent this winter. Recently, he helped his sister, Julia, instruct middle-school students at the Friars Club.
CJ, a Mr. Basketball candidate, sat on the bench with Julia and was clear with instructing the players about their body language on the court. He knows it's advice they will use the next level.
Earlier this week, Fredrick, 18, exhibited same of the same familiar skill set he's had as a player next door at Roger Bacon High School.
During Tuesday’s win at Roger Bacon, he had 21 points, six assists and six rebounds in 22 minutes of action. He was 7 of 11 from the field and 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.
“I’ve been around a lot of guys,” said Joe Fredrick. “I’ve never been around anybody like this. I know people say that but I’ve never seen anybody work like he works. He deserves all the success he gets. He’s earned every bit of it along the way.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery says CJ’s work ethic is “phenomenal” and the CovCath standout has tremendous upside when he joins the Big Ten program.
“He can score, he can pass, he defends,” McCaffery told WCPO. “He’s athletic. He can play the point. He can play the wing. He’s got a great feel for how to play. He’s a gamer. He’s better at the end of the game when others sometimes are not. He’s terrific.”
Many in Park Hills have wondered if this is the season CovCath returns to Lexington in March. After two regional runner-up finishes the past two seasons, the Colonels - the 2014 state champions - are determined to have a different outcome this season.
“We have all the talent in the world but our team chemistry is through the roof,” said 7-foot-1 center Jake Walter, a Xavier signee.
Walter and Fredrick have almost become like brothers. The two have played on the same Indiana Elite AAU team the past two years. They hang out and play video games together when they aren't on the court.
“We developed a chemistry that is unbreakable,” Walter said.
Fredrick and Walter practiced each day of the summer. Each knows what the other brings to the table whether setting screens, shooting, being a rim protector or simply a formidable inside-outside presence.
Part of that was cultivated through open gyms at CovCath – workouts not for the faint of heart.
“We went at it,” Fredrick said. “You go up for a layup and you have Jake sticking his elbow out. It was aggressive. Dudes were going at it.”
Ruthsatz has been instrumental in CJ's development. Ruthsatz's son, senior guard Aiden, a Christian Brothers University signee, and CJ play well together and could score more but understand the team concept first.
"Coach Ruthsatz's passion for high expectations and doing the best and delivering the best has been critical for CJ," Chuck Fredrick said. "It helps him stay focused in continuing to improve on what he does athletically and academically."
Months after their open gym sessions, the CovCath seniors can look back at some of those moments as preparation for the rigorous schedule the Colonels have faced this season from the Kings of the Bluegrass to the Battle of the Villages to playing Moeller and La Salle.
All of those challenges were meant to prepare CovCath for the tournament. Scott Ruthsatz says the focus is unwavering. These guys mean business and it shows.
Still, Fredrick says he is able to savor the final few home games. He has a tremendous amount of pride putting on the CovCath uniform each Friday night and running out onto the court in front of the Colonel Crazies in a gymnasium built in 1955.
“It’s honestly one of the best feelings of your life,” Fredrick said. “It gives you the chills. It’s something you won’t forget.”