The decision became unofficially official around Monday night, June 10, when Morton Ranch incoming senior guard LJ Cryer, a four-star national recruit, gathered with his parents in their bedroom to discuss his future.
LJ discussed what he liked about colleges he had visited, coaches he had talked to. His parents, Lionel and Mica, discussed what they liked. LJ and his parents had scoured tape of Virginia Tech men’s basketball games, the former team of current Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams. They had done the same for Baylor games.
In the end, the Bears checked every box in their list for a preferential college: Christian school, family-oriented, in-state, stability, and, perhaps most important of all, style of play.
Cryer felt so much at home in Waco, in fact, that he helped show a new recruit around campus during his unofficial visit June 9.
Cryer is Baylor’s first commit for the Class of 2020. He is ranked 41st in his class by ESPN and 68th by 247Sports.
“It just felt like home,” Cryer said. “The fact they’ve been recruiting me since eighth grade was important. It’s a good place to get a degree, and that’s big for me and my family. I always had a feeling since they first offered me (the summer before Cryer’s sophomore year) that they would be a good possibility and a school I’d consider. Over the past couple of months, just thinking about it, it felt like the best fit for me.”
Really, though, anyone paying attention could see that Cryer had made his decision, at least internally, well before this week.
Earlier this summer, new schools popped up on the radar, showing interest in bringing him on campus for official or unofficial visits. Those programs included Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
But Cryer decided he wasn’t interested in taking any more trips. Period. He liked what he had available to him. Baylor had recruited him since he was 14 years old. The last four years building a relationship with assistant coach Jerome Tang and head coach Scott Drew had been priceless to the Cryers.
Texas A&M wasn’t even in the picture until Williams was hired on April 4. On the first day his hiring was announced, Williams hopped on a plane. One of his first stops was Morton Ranch High to visit Cryer.
“They put themselves in contention when Buzz came,” Lionel said. “They made an impression like none other.”
Purdue was also in the picture. Like Baylor, Purdue coach Matt Painter employs a perimeter-friendly system where guards have control; former Atascocita standout Carsen Edwards showcased as much with his brilliant play during this year’s NCAA Tournament. LSU was also a factor. Mica graduated from law school at LSU, and Lionel and Mica are from New Orleans.
But LJ staying close to home was important to Lionel and Mica. So was stability, which is why LSU eventually dropped out of consideration because of the uncertainty and controversy surrounding coach Will Wade.
“We’re a real tight-knit family and we all want to be there for him,” Lionel said. “That’s a big thing, but at the same time it was whatever makes your kid happy. We expressed it would be nice for him to be somewhere where the whole family would get to see him and watch him play. The truth is, though, we’d understand if he wanted to go away for school. But to me, Texas has everything we wanted. We didn’t have to go anywhere to get what we wanted.”
Cryer acknowledged staying in Texas “is cool,” but Baylor won out, he said, because it was the best situation for him.
Drew made a considerable impact. Not only with his open-floor, range-shooting style of play, but also because of his coaching ability. Baylor suffered a plethora of injuries to key players last season and still made the NCAA Tournament.
“I look to see which coach had a lot of faith in me,” Cryer said. “We had to be on the same page, and I had to know they’d help me accomplish my goals long-term. I wanted somewhere that I felt like I could impact the team right away.”
He found that coach and that team. Now Cryer is focusing on next season, with plans to work this summer on his shooting range, athleticism—“I’m dunking more,” Cryer said proudly—and left-handed finishes around the basket.
The hard part is over.
“I just thank God for putting me in this situation,” Cryer said. “Sometimes the recruiting process can be overwhelming. It can get annoying at times. I always looked at it as a good problem to have, really. That was my mindset.”
Cryer has 19 offers, including Houston, Texas and Texas Tech. He has already scored more than 2,000 career points as a three-year varsity letterman for the Mavericks.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder was named to the first team All-USA Texas Boys Basketball team in April. As a junior last season, Cryer averaged 27.5 points, 5.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting 54 percent, including 37 percent from 3-point range.
Cryer is currently recovering from a grade-three ankle sprain suffered 13 weeks ago. Doctors are expected to clear him to return to contact basketball activities within the next two weeks.
He is aiming to play summer ball during the prestigious Nike EYBL Peach Jam in mid-July.
Now Cryer can play for the moment, as his future has been determined.
“I feel relieved. So relieved,” Cryer said. “Now I can focus on playing ball. I just want to lead my team to another good playoff run. Hopefully we can get to state and win it. I want a dominant senior year. That’s all I can ask for.”