Skip to main content

Recruiting mailbag: What's T.J. Otzelberger doing right with Iowa State? What's the latest on C.J. Fredrick?


play
Show Caption

Hi, everyone. Welcome, once again, to the recruiting mailbag.

Let's start with some info this week, as opposed to my normal ramblings and musings I'm sure most of you scroll past anyway.

I checked in with Indian Hills basketball coach Hank Plona this week. Two of his players, power forward Chris Payton and wing Tyem Freeman, are two of the more highly touted junior college prospects in the 2021 class. Iowa State has previously shown recruiting interest in both of them, although it doesn't sound like the Cyclones are as involved now.

For Payton, the 6-foot-7, former 2019 Southern Illinois recruit: He had Zoom visits with Maryland and Kent State over the weekend, and programs such as Texas Tech, New Mexico and Georgia Tech are also involved.

For Freeman, the 6-6, former 2019 Missouri State recruit: He is in talks right now with UCF, Murray State, Oregon, New Mexico and Tulsa.

Plona said neither player has any commitment timeline in mind. They have until May 18 to sign their letters of intent. So keep an eye on Payton and Freeman, as well as the 19 other junior college prospects I highlighted a couple weeks ago. In terms of talent per square foot, Iowa is one of the country's most basketball-rich states at the juco level.

Now, let's get to this week's questions, which focus on how T.J. Otzelberger and his staff have had their early recruiting success, the latest with Iowa target transfer Filip Rebraca, how realistic Drake's chances are with Josh Dix, what's next for Iowa State football recruiting and where Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick will end up. 

Why is T.J. Otzelberger having such early recruiting success?

There's no secret ingredient in recruiting. Some tactics work with some targets and fail miserably with others. Some prospects love a certain style of coaching. Others hate it.

Anyone who says they know how to land anybody in the country is a liar.

But there are people out there simply better at it than others. That's how you gain a reputation as a recruiter in the coaching world. T.J. Otzelberger had that reputation, and he's proving why early on in Ames. In order to have the type of early recruiting success he and his staff are enjoying right now, you need to do some things right — and have some things line up in your favor.

First and foremost, Iowa State is being smart about who it's targeting. At least so far, the Cyclones aren't spending serious recruiting capital on guys they likely won't land anyway. Too often, programs exhaust resources on cream-of-the-crop, five-star targets in hopes of landing one and they miss out on the good, high-major pieces out there, and have to scramble to find guys later in the process, when the options are more limited.

Translation: Programs miss on doubles or triples while they swing-and-miss on home runs, and then wind up trying to string together a few singles in the end.

Iowa State has put in the most hours with high-level, but also realistic, targets in the last three weeks. That focused effort has paid dividends in the form of legitimate rotation pieces who should make immediate contributions in Ames.

Choosing to prioritize Tamin Lipsey as much as he did, for example, was a smart move from Otzelberger. Not only is Lipsey a quality point guard, but he was also always seen as a Cyclones lean who would take less work to convince to play in Ames than others. With Lipsey on board early, Otzelberger's work in the 2022 class became much easier, especially considering he's AAU teammates with another major 2022 target, Minnesota's Eli King, who committed to Iowa State on Tuesday.

MORE: Tamin Lipsey: Here's why I'm committing to Iowa State basketball

Iowa State has been smart in the transfer portal, too.

For example: Gabe Kalscheur. Veteran, defensive-minded guard. From Minneapolis, just a few hours away. Certainly a high-major player, but not a guy the blue-bloods or perennial title contenders were pursuing. A smart choice to recruit.

Second, as long as the new head coach and his staff are energetic, it's not rare for programs to see a recruiting bump after a coaching change.

Think about it — it's human nature, really. We like what's new and shiny and exciting. A new coaching staff can sell an inspiring view of the future of their program, and they can sell targets on their role in that wide-open future. For some, it's appealing to get in on the ground floor of something to make your mark.

Third, this staff is treating Minnesota like Iowa. By that, I mean Otzelberger's staff is recruiting our northern neighbor like the Cyclones' home state. Adding assistant coach Kyle Green, who was mid-major royalty in Minnesota at Northern Iowa, was an excellent move. From conversations I've had with AAU coaches in Minnesota, that state has wanted to feel prioritized by the Cyclones. Ames is just a few hours from talent-rich Minneapolis, so Iowa State almost feels like an in-state school for them.

The result of Iowa State's renewed focus in Minnesota? Three products of the state — Kalscheur, Denver transfer Robert Jones and King — have committed to the Cyclones, as has Lipsey, AAU juggernaut D1 Minnesota's starting point guard.

Finally ... luck. This is by no means a knock on the Cyclones' recruiting success so far. Recruiting involves a whole lot of work. Otzelberger and his staff have put in that work.

But in any recruitment, there is at least a small amount of luck involved. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. And it feels like it's mostly gone Iowa State's way so far in Otzelberger's tenure.

For instance, Iowa State is lucky Kalscheur wanted to stay close to home. If he didn't, maybe he goes to Georgia or Clemson. Iowa State is lucky Lipsey didn't want to wait and see what interest he got during the 17U AAU season. Maybe he still commits to the Cyclones anyway. But without Lipsey on board, does King wait to commit, pick up another offer he can't refuse in the meantime and not follow Lipsey to Ames?

How many years would Filip Rebraca have left at Iowa?

Filip Rebraca, the 6-foot-9 graduate transfer out of North Dakota, would have two years of eligibility — one graduate season and the extra season from COVID-19 — at Iowa.

Iowa has been recruiting Rebraca for the past few weeks. Iowa appears to have focused on the stretch forward to help fill the void left by Jack Nunge and Luka Garza's departures. Rebraca has had multiple Zoom visits with the Hawkeyes, including his most recent one this past Sunday, he told me. He also told me he expects to make a decision this week.

Schools that have been involved with Rebraca include Minnesota, South Carolina, San Diego State, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Utah and Iona, although it sounds like that list is smaller now, with Iowa making the cut.

Rebraca, the son of Zeljko Rebraca, a former Serbian professional basketball player who played six years in the NBA, started 74 of 87 games during his three seasons at North Dakota, averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 54.1% and 33.3% from 3-point range. This past season, he logged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while knocking down 36.6% of his long-range shots.

What's next for Iowa State football on the recruiting trail?

Cyclone football had a big week with the additions of Kansas City linebacker Carson Willich and Harlan linebacker Will McLaughlin, effectively giving Matt Campbell his current three top linebacker targets (along with Sergeant Bluff-Luton's Jacob Imming).

What's next? I'd imagine Iowa State would love to land one of its three major tight end targets: Valley's Eli Raridon, Prairie's Gabe Burkle and Omaha product Micah Riley.

Raridon, my No. 4 in-state 2022 prospect, is planning to fill his June with official visits to Iowa State (June 4-6), Tennessee (June 11-13), Notre Dame (June 18-20) and Iowa (June 25-27). The Cyclones are squarely in the mix and have been for a long time. Tennessee is the wild card here. I talked with him the day after he received that offer. He was pumped, and he was excited that former Iowa State tight ends coach Alex Golesh, now Tennessee's offensive coordinator, was the coach recruiting him.

MORE: Ranking the top 40 in-state football prospects in the 2022 class

I've got Burkle ranked No. 9 and he just picked up his latest offer from Nebraska. He told me he's officially visiting Iowa State the weekend of June 11-13.

Riley is a four-star tight end out of Bellevue West in Omaha, and he's essentially down to a final five of Iowa State, Iowa, Auburn, Wisconsin and Nebraska. He's got official visits set to all five schools in June, starting with the Cyclones June 4-6. (He'll be in Iowa City June 25-27, along with Raridon.)

Does Drake have a real shot with Josh Dix? 

Does Drake have a shot with Council Bluffs Lincoln shooting guard Josh Dix? Yes.

How big of a shot? That's a longer answer.

Dix, the 6-4 perimeter player who can do everything at least at an above-average level, has blossomed into the high-major prospect I predicted he would since November. Wake Forest (with two Iowans on staff in head coach Steve Forbes and special assistant to head coach Matt Woodley) offered last week, which spurred interest from Purdue. Then, on Tuesday, Purdue gave Dix his second high-major offer, and Iowa offered Dix on Wednesday. Iowa State and Creighton are among the other high-majors interested.

So, at this point, there's no question Dix is good enough to sign with a high-major. (And Wake Forest is making a big push, trying to get him on campus in June.)

Does that rule out Drake? I wouldn't say so. Dix, my No. 2 prospect in 2022 behind Lipsey, told me he's also in talks with Drake and Iowa to visit campus in June, so there's definitely mutual interest with those schools.

MORE: Ranking the top 20 in-state basketball prospects in the 2022 class

The Bulldogs have prioritized Dix for nearly a year now, and that matters. Drake's recent success, and its projected continuation of success under Darian DeVries, matters. It also helps that Dix saw four-star wing Tucker DeVries, another high-major talent, pick the Bulldogs, and the potential of those two playing together is exciting.

Let's say Dix releases a top four. I wouldn't be surprised if it was Drake and three high-majors. I'd be lying, however, if I said I don't think Dix will end up at a high-major.

Where will CJ Fredrick end up?

There'd be a lot of stunned people out there if CJ Fredrick, the former Iowa shooting guard who entered the transfer portal this week, doesn't go to Kentucky.

Fredrick is from Cincinnati, but he went to school across the Ohio River in Kentucky at Covington Catholic, where he led the Colonels to a state title in 2018. By then, he had already signed with Iowa. But I did hear at the time that Kentucky's John Calipari paid attention to Fredrick's performance during the state title run and was intrigued by the in-state talent.

Now, all signs point to Fredrick playing for Calipari next year at Rupp Arena, where Fredrick won that Kentucky state title three years ago.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network.  Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.