HOUSTON (AP) — The bad news for No. 7 Houston is that consensus All-American Marcus Sasser is gone after being picked in the first round of this summer’s NBA draft.
The good news is that coach Kelvin Sampson found a good , experienced replacement for the guard.
LJ Cryer joins the Cougars after spending three seasons at Baylor, where he helped the Bears to a national title as a freshman. He averaged 15 points per game last season when he shot 45.3% overall and 41.5% from 3-point range.
“LJ is just an impressive kid,” Sampson said. “We’ve had a bunch of really, really good guards which is why we’ve been winning is because of our players. So, LJ is a lot like those guys. He’s a kid that has a nose for scoring.”
The Cougars are again expected to be one of the nation’s top teams after reaching the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 for a fourth straight time last year. They have dominated the American Athletic Conference over the last few seasons, winning the regular-season title in four of the last six seasons, including last year.
This season they make their debut in the Big 12, where Sampson knows the competition will be much tougher. The 68-year-old coach is very familiar with the Big 12, having coached Oklahoma for more than a decade in the early years of the conference.
“We’re not going to run from anybody,” Sampson said. “We get the internet here in Houston. We get cable. We don’t need someone to tell us how good Kansas is or how good Baylor is. We get it. We know that our record isn’t going to be what it was, but I’m excited about it.”
He should be. Sampson has transformed the program since arriving in Houston for the 2014-15 season. The Cougars had been to the tournament just once in the 21 seasons before he arrived but have been in each of the last five seasons in which the tournament was held, highlighted by a trip to the Final Four in 2021.
“Our consistency is that we’ve had consistent point guard play year after year and our kids come back and that’s been a big part of it,” Sampson said. “But the other thing I say is our assistant coaches, our staff — I’ve been lucky in that they’ve had opportunities to leave, but we’ve kept our staff together for 10 years. And I think that’s our secret sauce.”
While Sasser is gone, the Cougars return another top player from last season in senior Jamal Shead. He was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season when he averaged 10.5 points a game and led the team with 200 assists.
He’s the second player in Houston history with 200 assists in two seasons after he had a career-high 221 two years ago. Shead ranks seventh in school history with 460 career assists. He had 19 games last season with at least five assists and 24 games with two or fewer turnovers.
The Cougars open the season Nov. 6 against Louisiana-Monroe in the first of three straight home games. They’ll face their first ranked opponent when they meet No. 15 Texas A&M on Dec. 16 in a showcase at the Toyota Center that also includes a game between LSU and Texas. Houston opens Big 12 play at home against West Virginia on Jan. 6.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll