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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Men's Basketball

UH Guard L.J. Cryer growing into big role with new team

L.J. Cryer transferred to Houston after three years at Baylor, and is set to play a massive part in the teams’ inaugural Big 12 season. | Anh Le/The Cougar

With the departure of star UH guard Marcus Sasser to the NBA after last season, Baylor transfer guard L.J. Cryer has been tasked with replacing much of the production from the Cougars’ all-time leading three-point shooter.

And so far since joining the team in April, teammates and coaches alike have had no qualms about Cryer fitting into the role as the primary scoring option. In fact, teammates like sophomore guard Emanuel Sharp see plenty of similarities between Cryer and Sasser offensively.

“They’re pretty similar. L.J., like Mark, is one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen,” Sharp said. “Spot up, off the dribble, anything. He barely misses in practice or in shooting drills.”

Cryer’s reputation preceded him coming to UH. The senior guard finished his career at Morton Ranch High School as the highest-scoring player in Houston public school history. In his three years at Baylor, Cryer won a National Championship in 2021 and scored 15 points per game last year as part of a guard trio that featured an NBA Lottery pick and All-Big 12 First Team selection.

Now with the Cougars, Cryer is set to join a legacy of explosive scoring guards that have made their mark in Houston under head coach Kelvin Sampson. Of the five players that UH currently has in the NBA, four of them are shooting guards, most notably Sasser and Quentin Grimes — both first-round draft picks — as well as Armoni Brooks and Nate Hinton.

“That’s L.J.’s lineage,” Sampson said. “There are a lot of guys that can make a shot, but they’re not shotmakers. He’s a shotmaker. ”

With an unquestioned knack for putting points on the board, one of Cryer’s focuses since coming to Houston has been improving on the defensive end, a non-negotiable for any player under Kelvin Sampson.

“The adjustment for L.J. will be just to keep evolving,” Sampson said. “He’s getting better. He wants to be a good defender. When you keep showing up with the right attitude and the right effort every day, you will be there.”

But becoming a good defender is much easier said than done. Where that evolution starts is during Sampson’s notoriously hard conditioning sessions and practices. Though undoubtedly grueling, Cryer has risen to the challenge and said he’s excited to see where the program takes him.

“I’ve been pushed to limits that I didn’t know I could be pushed to,” Cryer said. “He (Sampson) hasn’t let up since the first day I got here … I love it honestly, because it’s only going to get me better.”

A big helper in that process is having a childhood friend as your roommate and point guard.

Jamal Shead and Cryer met as kids on the AAU circuit, where the two regularly played each other in weekend tournaments. It was in those meetings as kids that Shead saw firsthand Cryer’s natural scoring prowess.

“We used to play them all the time. We’d meet them in the championship every weekend,” Shead said. “He was kicking our butt, the only person in the third grade doing stepbacks.”

When the two met again as bench-contributing freshmen in the Final Four in 2021, Cryer once again got the best of Shead when Baylor beat Houston en route to its championship.

“We’ve connected over the years and that time in the Final Four I was like, ‘Yeah, you got us,'” Shead said. “And then they won it and I was like ‘F you.'”

Now, after years of playing as adversaries, Shead and Cryer are finally teammates leading what is perhaps one of the nation’s best backcourts. And with the Big 12 lurking for UH, the pair’s longtime friendship will prove critical as the season progresses.

“He’s gonna really love playing with me because there’s gonna be some shots that he’s not expecting,” Shead said. “I feel like we’re gonna help each other a lot, just by being there and being dependable whenever we need to.”

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