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Leistikow: Thoughts on CJ Fredrick's transfer decision, what's next for Hawkeyes

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When CJ Fredrick was redshirting as a true freshman in Iowa City during the 2018-19 season, his emergence in Iowa basketball practices was becoming increasingly obvious. He was a willing defender, a marksman from 3-point range and someone who made those around him better.

Fran McCaffery's belief in Fredrick’s skill set was so strong that then-fourth year junior shooting guard Isaiah Moss felt he might be beaten out and wound up grad-transferring to Kansas the following offseason. Fredrick would make the all-Big Ten Conference freshman team after leading the league in 3-point shooting. Then, as a redshirt sophomore — when healthy — he continued to play a key starting role for a team that was consistently in the national top 10.

Fredrick was well-liked by teammates and held close family connections to the McCafferys, his uncle having played at Notre Dame 30-plus years ago when Fran was an assistant coach in South Bend. When he wasn't injured (he missed 10 of Iowa's 62 games over two years and big chunks of others with various lower-body ailments), Fredrick was an efficient player who made big shots, played good defense and delivered smart passes while rarely turning the ball over.

That’s why Sunday’s turn of events — Fredrick telling McCaffery and his Iowa teammates that he would be leaving Iowa City after three years to find a new basketball home — stung the Hawkeye program. By 11 a.m. Monday, Fredrick’s name was added to the NCAA transfer portal. It remains to be seen how long it takes from his status to change from “active” to “matriculated.”

There are a lot of layers of this offseason bombshell to unpack.

Iowa’s response (or lack thereof) to the news sent a telling message.

Fredrick is the second significant Hawkeye to transfer out of the program in the past three weeks. 6-foot-11 big man Jack Nunge — who would have been in line for a major role with consensus national player of the year Luka Garza turning pro — opted to leave (eventually for Xavier) to be closer to his family in Indiana. After Nunge’s surprise announcement March 30, the outpouring of love from teammates on social media was flowing within 45 minutes.

Patrick McCaffery wrote, “Brother for life.”

Garza wrote, “Excited to follow your journey and all the success coming your way, Jack.”

Jordan Bohannon tweeted three heart emojis for his friend.

Fran McCaffery's statement said he fully supported Nunge's decision "and (we) will help every way possible with his transition. Jack is beloved and respected by everyone in our program and has been a valuable teammate the past four years.”

After Fredrick’s Twitter announcement Monday?

Crickets from teammates publicly. And you don’t need to read between the lines of the press release, because there wasn’t one. The only official word from Iowa basketball was a one-sentence tweet: “Iowa Head Coach Fran McCaffery announced Monday that junior CJ Fredrick has submitted his name in the NCAA transfer portal.”

There are clearly some raw emotions still festering here. And it’ll be interesting, to say the least, to see where Fredrick ends up.

Fredrick doesn’t deserve to be ripped; think about things from his perspective, too.

Fredrick did not return a text Monday seeking an interview, so at this point we don’t know his thought process or what forces were at play in his decision. But flash back to a decade ago, when Fredrick was called “doughboy” as a child. Back then, he admitted he never dreamt he would be a Division I basketball prospect, let alone the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year (as he would become in 2018).

He initially chose to walk on at Iowa over a scholarship offer from hometown program Xavier but quickly got put on scholarship in Iowa City after Christian Williams transferred. Now, Fredrick probably could get a scholarship offer at most places in the country, bluebloods included.

What was thought to be one of the best teams in Iowa history was only good enough to reach the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. And now the primary pieces from that team are gone (or likely gone). Does Fredrick want to be constantly double-teamed in a potential rebuilding effort? In the new immediate-eligibility transfer world of college hoops, if Fredrick sees an opportunity to play for a team that he views as having a better chance at making a Final Four … doesn’t that make some sense? 

Some might view the decision as selfish. Others might say it’s opportunistic.

Where does Iowa go from here?

The development increases Fran McCaffery’s urgency to reshape his roster.

Even though there’s a very low percentage chance that Joe Wieskamp will return to college, we do need to mention that possibility exists. The second-team all-Big Ten swingman left that door open with his recent announcement that he would enter the NBA Draft while maintaining his NCAA eligibility. He has until July 19 to withdraw. However, he delivered the type of season that has earned a lot of second-round buzz. Seeing former Hawkeye teammate Tyler Cook score 12 points in his first NBA start Monday will only increase Wieskamp's confidence that he can take the next step. 

So, Iowa desperately needs a shooter for 2021-22. And McCaffery’s first pitch should be to Jordan Bohannon to be that shooter. Bohannon was thought to be done after his fifth year at Iowa, but he’s left that door open as he continues to be a leader for the #NotNCAAProperty players' movement. (He and Iowa women’s player Caitlin Clark were among those set to meet on Zoom with NCAA president Mark Emmert on Tuesday night.)

Bohannon is No. 2 in Big Ten history in 3-pointers (364). It’d be hard to find a better instant-impact shooter or better fit in the 1,400-name transfer portal. Being a focal point of McCaffery's fast-paced offense (instead of a distributor) could be enticing for Bohannon. Even if he were somehow swayed to play for a sixth year at Iowa — and that would be huge in the short-term, because he could be more of a shooting guard (with Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis and even Connor McCaffery available to run the point) — that would still leave two open scholarships for 2021-22.

There is outside skepticism that Fran McCaffery will have success in the transfer market, something he has barely tapped into during his 11 years at Iowa. But don’t forget, he hasn’t had to take on many transfers. This past season’s Iowa team was a testament to that, with the five regular starters having been with the program for a combined 19 years.

Give McCaffery a fair chance to pluck some transfer-portal wins before judging him in this department. That said, he’s got to get moving.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.