Culture / Sporting Life

LJ Cryer Brings a Hidden Edge to UH Basketball — Baylor Transfer Believes Kelvin Sampson’s Player Development Program Can Take Him to Another Level

How a Hard-Nosed Linebacker Dad Makes Cryer a Natural Fit With Houston

BY // 07.10.23

When your dad played football in college — and not just played, but earned a spot in Grambling State’s Hall of Fame as a hard-hitting linebacker — you’re going to have a little extra toughness. The way LJ Cryer tells it, his dad made sure of it.

“He’s always been tough on me,” Cryer tells PaperCity. “And I feel like I have a toughness and an edge to me.”

Cryer, a sweet-shooting guard who’s a walking bucket, is now bringing that hidden edge to the University of Houston, arguably the toughest basketball program in the land.

Cryer joins Kelvin Sampson’s nationally elite program after three seasons at Baylor, where he won a national title as a freshman, scored 20 points five times as a sophomore and started all 31 games and broke the school’s NCAA Tournament scoring record as a junior. Cryer did plenty in Waco, but he feels Sampson’s UH developmental program will give him the best chance at hearing his name called in the NBA Draft.

“I feel like I have the staff to do it,” Cryer says of UH’s coaching staff led by Kelvin Sampson, Kellen Sampson and Quannas White.  “I know they’re going to put me in uncomfortable situations. Really with the conditioning. And I know they’re going to be on me with my defense.

“But at the end of the day, I feel like that’s what’s going to make me a better player. I feel like that’s what it’s going to take for me to make it to the next level.”

Cryer went through the NBA pre-draft process this spring, working out for several teams, including the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder, getting feedback on what league evaluators think he needs to work on. Of course, Cryer also has own mini pro basketball network. He still keeps in contact with Sacramento Kings guard Davion Mitchell, one of the stars of that Baylor national championship team. He also talks to former Bears teammates MaCio Teague, who is playing overseas, and Jared Butler, who is in The Thunder’s organization.

Now, Cryer is focused on being part of a new elite guard connection at Houston, along with Jamal Shead, the All-American worthy candidate returning point guard; Emanuel Sharp, the now fully healthy sharpshooter; and Damian Dunn, the Temple transfer.

“I feel like this team has its own identity,” Cryer tells PaperCity. “And I feel like we do have the makings and makeup to go all the way.”

While the super hype and hoopla that surrounded last year’s Jarace Walker and Marcus Sasser potential UH super team is largely gone, almost all of the early Top 25s still have the Cougars firmly within the Top 10. Yes, the addition of Cryer helps set up Houston to keep doing what it has been doing since the 2018-2019 season, pushing to win it all.

LJ Cryer, The Natural Bucket Getter

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cryer become the latest guard to lead the University of Houston in scoring, following Marcus Sasser in 2022-23, fellow transfer Kyler Edwards in 2021-22 and Quentin Grimes in 2020-21. He’s that natural of a scorer, someone who’s put up 30 points in a high-level NCAA Tournament game and hit eight threes in a Big 12 battle.

“Probably the best scorer that I’ve coached since I’ve been here is Rob Gray,” Kelvin Sampson says. “I don’t think we’ve had a more natural scorer than Rob. Corey Davis — we’ve had kids who could put up way better numbers if they’d been somewhere where they could shoot all the balls. A lot of losing teams have guys that score a lot of points. Somebody’s got to score.

“But our guys sacrifice because we play a lot as a team. And we’re organized and we’re disciplined. But LJ reminds me a little bit of Corey Davis that way. He’s got a little Marcus in him. . . But LJ’s a scorer. . . LJ fits right in with that group.”

“I feel like this team has its own identity. And I feel like we do have the makings and makeup to go all the way.” — LJ Cryer on Houston’s chances this season.

LJ Cryer gives the University of Houston a serious 3-point threat and an all-around scorer who believes he can still show more.
LJ Cryer gives the University of Houston a serious 3-point threat and an all-around scorer who believes he can still show more.

Cryer’s easy rapport with his new UH teammates is already apparent. During our interview, Jamal Shead breaks in when he hears Cryer talking about playing football.

“No you didn’t,” Shead cracks when Cryer talks about playing safety.

“I swear I did,” Cryer shoots back. “I played safety. You were not coming down. You was not. Nobody was.”

Shead grins. It turns out Houston’s lifeline point guard also played safety on his high school football team. Now, Shead and Cryer will be leading UH’s point of attack on both offense and defense, playing off each other. Cryer spent this offseason trying to make himself a more complete guard, one who can do much more than make it rain buckets.

“I worked a lot on ball handling this offseason,” Cryer tells PaperCity. “A lot of pass placement. Hitting guys on target on time. Because when you do that, it helps players with their percentages.

“And just like my change of pace, not being sped up. Because I know at times I’ll be able to have the ball in my hands. So just being more comfortable.”

LJ Cryer is already very comfortable with Kelvin Sampson. Sampson recruited him out of high school when Cryer was a high scoring guard at Morton Ranch in Katy. Maybe more importantly, Sampson reminds Cryer of another very important figure in his life.

“Like my dad,” is how Cryer describes Houston’s coach. “I feel like my dad was always hard on me growing up. But I feel like if I can take it from my dad, I can take the criticism, the telling whatever, from anyone. I mean, it’s fine with me.

“I love Coach Sampson at the end of the day.”

Lionel Cryer Sr. taught his son to be tough. And the son thinks playing for Kelvin Sampson, even if it’s just for one season, will help him get even stronger.

Like father, like Coach.

Cryer has already been struck by how some things are just different in this UH basketball program. Particularly in conditioning — an obsessive emphasis at Houston that has the basketball players hitting the track almost daily in the summer under director of sports performance Alan Bishop.

“It’s way different,” Cryer tells PaperCity. “Baylor we never went to the field or conditioned at the track or anything. But I feel like the way we condition here is at like a whole nother level. Me being in the best shape of my life will also take my game to another level.”

LJ Cryer is at Houston now. Where a Marcus Sasser goes from being the 399th ranked player in his high school class to getting drafted in the first round. Improvement is expected — and planned out. LJ Cryer is ready to put in the work. With an edge.

For more of Chris Baldwin’s extensive, detailed and unique insider coverage of UH sports — stories you cannot read anywhere else — bookmark this page. Follow Baldwin on Twitter here.

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