High School Basketball

ONE OF A KIND

Morton Ranch's Cryer one of the best ever

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 2/23/20

The tweet popped up on more than 8,700 timelines at 3:25 p.m. on Feb. 19. Authored by Houston Rockets legend and three-time NBA champion Mario Elie, it stated what has become more and more obvious during the 2019-20 high school basketball season.

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High School Basketball

ONE OF A KIND

Morton Ranch's Cryer one of the best ever

Posted

The tweet popped up on more than 8,700 timelines at 3:25 p.m. on Feb. 19. Authored by Houston Rockets legend and three-time NBA champion Mario Elie, it stated what has become more and more obvious during the 2019-20 high school basketball season.

“Lj Cryer is the best HS player in the city of Houston. That young man was (eating) this season. Good luck at Baylor.”

Yes, it can certainly be claimed that Cryer, the Morton Ranch High senior guard who leads the city of Houston in scoring, is the best in Houston. But it can also be said that the Baylor signee is one of the top players in Texas high school basketball ever. Period.

As the playoffs start up Monday, with the No. 14 state-ranked Mavericks eyeing a state championship, Cryer is a headliner. With 3,393 points this season, an average of 35.6 per game, he ranks fifth all-time in career points in Texas high school boys basketball history. He is the top scorer all-time in the Greater Houston area, eclipsing former Houston Jones star and NBA player Daniel Gibson (2000-2004) earlier this season.

The 6-foot-1, 181-pound Cryer has 11 40-point games this season and is coming off a spectacular 50-point, 10-assist game against Mayde Creek in the Mavs’ regular season finale on Feb. 18. The win capped a second straight undefeated district championship for Morton Ranch and extended the Mavs’ district winning streak to 30 games, the best mark in Katy ISD in three decades.

“I’ve been a scorer all my life,” Cryer said. “I didn’t know I’d be able to score the way I do now, but I put in the work. I feel it’s expected out of me.”

When told he is the best scorer ever in Greater Houston area hoops, Cryer said, “It’s crazy.” He was unaware. But he is also cautious to not get ahead of himself.

“You can’t really be satisfied with all that right now,” Cryer said. “My mindset is to want more. When I’m working out, I just think there’s always more I can do.”

Cryer’s scoring numbers are astronomical. He is also doing it at an impressively efficient rate.

Cryer averages 1.6 points per shot (1.0 point per shot is considered good). He is shooting 56 percent overall. On almost 10 3-point attempts per game, he is connecting on 44 percent; 10 times, he has made six or more 3-pointers in a game. He plays almost the entirety of games, which last 32 minutes in regulation, and only averages 22.8 shot attempts per game.

When he scored 50, Cryer did so on 25 field goal attempts. And he is far from a one-trick pony—Cryer averages 5.2 assists and 2.5 steals per game.

Still, he has his share of critics, especially on social media. Some say he is too point-happy. Others say he is overrated. Some simply post negative comments because agreeing that Cryer is talented and gifted would be too easy, too … honest?

“None of it really bothers me,” Cryer said. “I laugh at a lot of it. At the end of the day, I know I play well. A lot of the negative stuff, I just use it as fuel. That’s all I can do. I can’t really change their opinion. A lot of people are happy with the way I perform, and some people just hate on it. It is what it is.”

One person who is a bit perturbed by the constant harping is Mavs coach Khris Turner. Turner hears how Cryer perhaps should not be playing as many minutes as he does, particularly considering Morton Ranch is up big the majority of games. He hears about how Cryer shoots too much.

“It all bothers me, to be honest,” Turner said. “He’s chasing a scoring record for the state of Texas, and any coach in my shoes would allow that kid the opportunity. He’s a senior. If he was a sophomore or junior, it’d be different. But this is his last year, and he’s worked for it.”

There is perhaps an underlying sentiment to the criticism. People—be it former or present coaches and players, or fans in the stands— perhaps have an issue with how much freedom Cryer is awarded. The ball is almost always in his hands; the offense dictated almost entirely upon his will.

Turner doesn’t even think twice about it.

“Somebody has something to say about everything he does. But his work ethic and his tenacity on the court has led to this,” Turner said. “If L.J. didn’t work the way he works, it’d be different. But he works. And if you criticize him, then you really don’t know his work ethic. It’s frustrating when critics make light of the hard work a kid puts in. He’s the hardest-working kid I’ve ever seen.”

Cryer’s dad, Lionel, put a basketball in his son’s hands when Cryer was 2 years old. Lionel traced Cryer’s hands on the basketball so he would have proper hand placement.

“Making sure his hand was in the middle of the ball was the main thing,” Lionel said. “Most kids at that age shot the ball with their hands on the side. Got to have your hands in the middle of the ball and follow through on every shot.”

Since then, Cryer has been shooting and dribbling, shooting and dribbling, shooting and dribbling. School and basketball have dominated his childhood.

Some summers, Cryer had to make 1,000 shots per day. On weekends, even during the season, he will find a gym and get up shots and do ballhandling drills late into the evenings.

During a recent late morning athletic period at school, Cryer shot 100 3-point shots from five different areas of the court.

Cryer’s passion for the game started at an early age, and his parents, Lionel and Mica, heeded that. They fed that desire.

“I’d lay in bed and shoot the ball up and down, working on form,” Cryer said. “It’s helped. When I shoot, it comes from reps. I don’t even think about it. When I think, I tend to miss more.

“When I’m shooting, I feel unconscious.”

Lionel is not surprised at his son’s scoring accolades. He did not raise an eyebrow watching his son score 50. The only time he or Mica have been surprised by anything Cryer has done on the court was when he scored 47 points in a game for his AAU team, Basketball University, on the Adidas circuit in Las Vegas the summer before his sophomore year.

Cryer was playing against older kids. In fact, the only time he did not play summer AAU ball against older competition was last summer.

And now?

“Now he has that attitude that he’s THAT guy,” said senior guard Westley Sellers, who has played on the same team as Cryer since they were 12 years old. “That’s where his confidence level is.”

Cryer’s status has blossomed so much that, nowadays, a 30-point game is met with scoffs and rolled eyes. Last season, a 30-point game would have drawn high-fives and praise.

“Now, it’s like, ‘Oh, he had 30? Is he OK?’” Cryer said, holding back a laugh. “I can score more than 30 any time. But if I can get 30 and 10 assists and make the game easy, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The game comes naturally to Cryer. Scoring is breathing.

Most of the time, he uses the first halves of games to feel out defenses and get his teammates going. At halftime, it can appear he’s having a subpar game, by his standards, most of the time.

But Cryer has the innate ability to flip a proverbial switch. He did so against Mayde Creek, when he broke open a one-point game at the half and single-handedly helped lead the Mavs to a 23-point win. He did so again earlier this year at Seven Lakes, when he scored 33 of his 43 points in the second half.

That’s not a coincidence. It’s purposeful. It’s his mindset.

“I like to see how the defense is going to play me,” Cryer said. “I use a lot of ball-screens, so if they hedge it, I’ll just hit the open guy. If they don’t hedge, I just know I can start scoring. I try and get a feel for those things early. And as the game goes on, it’s a mindset that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing defensively, I have to go out and finish the game.”

Lionel has always emphasized to his son that there are times during a game when to get others involved and times when it’s his turn to take over.

“He’s always played point guard, and he’s always wanted the game to be fun,” Lionel said. “I used to always tell him, though, ‘Look, we can’t ever let the game get out of hand. So, if you need to score, you need to score. You control all that.’ He’s always passing the ball, but when he gets down by five, gets down by 10, he’s been taught to make sure he stops the bleeding. Keep other people involved, but when it’s time to go get a bucket, go get a bucket.”

The playoffs are here, and those buckets will mean more. Cryer said it is important to him that he plays well on such a stage. The Mavs were regional quarterfinalists last season, and, though it was the furthest the program has ever been in the postseason, it was a heartbreakingly frustrating end. But deep down, they knew they had one last run waiting with Cryer, TCU signee Eddie Lampkin and versatile stat-stuffer Sellers.

That run is now. One loss, and the legacy of the trio is done. It’s why Cryer could not care less about being fifth all-time on the state scoring list. Or No. 1 in the Greater Houston area. Or 50-point games. Or 30-game district winning streaks.

A time will come to celebrate all that. It’s just not now.

“I’ll probably soak it all in at the end of the season,” Cryer said. “Hopefully, I’m soaking it in with a state championship.”

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