L.J. Cryer gives UH Cougars scoring spark

L.J. Cryer impresses as a high-scoring asset for UH Cougars basketball team.

L.J. Cryer gives UH Cougars scoring spark
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When it comes to what Baylor transfer L.J. Cryer adds most on the basketball floor, it’s real simple for University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson.

“Put the biscuit in the basket,” Sampson said.

And seven games into Cryer’s tenure with the sixth-ranked Cougars, he has been doing exactly that – at a clip. Brought in this season to replace high-scoring guard Marcus Sasser in the Cougars’ backcourt, Cryer hasn’t disappointed.

He has been the volume scorer the Coogs needed and on the flipside, Cryer is receiving the push he needs from the UH coaching staff to be a more complete player to improve his NBA chances for next year’s NBA Draft.

“A coach that believed in me and that was going to push me to be the best I can be,” Cryer said when asked by the Defender what he was looking for when putting his name into the NCAA transfer portal last spring. “I felt like Coach Sampson has the no BS approach and I love that about him. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything and that is what I was looking for.”

It’s still early in the process, but it appears Cryer and the Cougars are getting everything they need from each other. Cryer, a former standout at Morton Ranch, has blended in seamlessly with his new teammates, especially backcourt mate Jamal Shead.

Shead and Cryer had a friendship that pre-dated them becoming teammates, and their bond has only seemed to strengthen as the two vie to become one of the best backcourts in the nation this season. The two are playing off each other so smoothly that at times it seems they’ve been sharing the same backcourt for a few seasons instead of a few months.

“It’s fun because I know he is always looking to find me,” Cryer said of playing with Shead. “He’s very unselfish, like a pass-first point guard. It kind of takes the load off me. I don’t have to go out there and hunt shots. I can be patient and let the game come to me when you have someone like that.”

Tournament MVP Performance

So far, it has worked out perfectly. After scoring just nine points in his debut with the Cougars during the season-opener against Louisiana-Monroe, Cryer has scored in double figures in six straight games and is averaging 17 points while shooting 42% from the field and 38% from 3-point range.

Cryer is coming off a standout tournament performance in which he averaged 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2 assists and shot nearly 46% from the 3-point line over three games to finish as the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic MVP and while helping the undefeated Cougars win the tournament championship earlier this month.

While Cryer’s game has fit well with the Cougars, Shead says Cryer’s drive to show leadership amongst a group he is relatively new to has been big, as well.

“It just goes to show his character,” Shead said. “LJ has been labeled a bunch of stuff before he got here but he has been nothing but a great leader, great friend, great teammate and a great roommate for me. He has been awesome and I feel like he is going to continue to do so.”

Cryer, who is a senior, said he decided to transfer because he wanted a change of scenery and wanted coaches who would push him to improve, especially on the defensive end of the court. Cryer, who averaged 15 points, 2.1 rebounds and two rebounds in 31 starts for Baylor last season, declared for the NBA Draft last spring prior to transferring to UH and worked out for a few NBA teams. Those teams advised him on areas he needed to get better in order to improve his draft stock.

“It was just a lot going on for me, so coming home and being with my family, knowing Jamal before I got here, felt like it was the perfect spot for me,” Cryer said.

National Championship experience

In addition to being able to fill the scoring void and give the Cougars some idea of what the competition will be like as they head into the Big 12 season, Cryer can also provide an idea of what it takes to win a national championship, having been a freshman reserve when the Bears won the NCAA Tournament in 2021.

“LJ has got a lot of winner to him,” Sampson said. “I think he has gotten better since he has been here. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have gotten better had he been at Baylor. A lot of guys leave somewhere and get better but they are going to be better because they are older. Guys improve as they go along.”

Cryer believes the current Cougars are built similarly to the Baylor national championship team and feels like his experience can be helpful as they look to make another push for the title.

“I’ve seen what it takes and I know what camaraderie is supposed to be, the effort and how much sacrifice it takes,” said Cryer, who set Baylor’s single-game NCAA Tournament record with 30 points in his final game in a Bears’ jersey in March. “I don’t have to talk about it too much, I feel like we are on the right path. The guys love each other on and off the floor. I feel like that’s half the battle right there. We just go to keep coming to work every day and getting better.”