'OU had too many pluses'
How Sooners kept top recruit CJ Noland on track to reach Norman
CJ Noland wasn’t going to rush.
Nearly two weeks ago, new OU coach Porter Moser was on the phone. It was his first day on the job and one priority was touching base with Noland.
Immediately, Moser’s energy caught Noland’s attention.
“Man, this dude here, he’s in it,” Noland thought. “He’s locked in. He's what I want in a coach.”
Still, Noland had to take a step back.
The Waxahachie star had signed his letter of intent with the Sooners in November without even seeing campus in person. Lon Kruger was then the coach, but he retired last month.
Noland — the recruiting class’s top prospect — was caught by surprise.
“I didn't want to jump the gun and do something I would regret later,” Noland said.
Now, there are no regrets.
Noland will be a Sooner. His long, winding recruitment is officially over for a second time.
It’s a decision he made official last weekend that keeps the program’s top recruit on track to arrive this summer alongside a signing class that expanded Wednesday with the addition of Overland Park, Kansas, point guard Alston Mason.
“Coach Moser, he has a DNA of winning the right way and doing things the right way,” Noland said. “I want to play for him too, just as much as Coach Kruger.”
Noland is a 6-foot-3, 215-pound shooting guard, a four-star recruit who can score in a myriad of ways. He can hit 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and he can dominate at the rim.
He brings big playmaking ability for a team running short of scorers at the moment with the loss of Austin Reaves and uncertain futures of De’Vion Harmon and Brady Manek.
The path to Norman wasn’t quite easy for Noland.
The son of former Kansas State guard Belvis Noland, CJ grew up attending camps at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas. Basketball was his future.
But football nearly pulled him away.
CJ received a scholarship offer from Baylor following his eighth-grade season. He impressed in camps at Alabama and Georgia.
“I didn’t even know what recruiting was,” CJ said. “I didn’t even know what an offer was.”
He was a natural, though.
At tight end, running back and defensive end as a freshman on the varsity team at Waxahachie High, CJ scored touchdowns and delivered quarterback sacks.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Football wasn’t for him.
Injury concerns were a factor. He also loved basketball more.
CJ immediately took off on the court. During the National Hoopfest DFW in December 2018, he scored 30 in a loss to Huntington Prep. He shined the next night against IMG Academy.
That was when CJ started to believe in himself.
“When it was time to play against teams that had maybe supposed to be the best player or player with rankings and all that, he would go out there and tear them up,” Belvis said. “He would do them bad.”
That led to more than 20 basketball scholarship offers.
Houston. Kansas State. Oklahoma State. Vanderbilt.
All offered. But none could beat out OU, even if CJ had no idea what campus actually looks like in person.
CJ was never able to visit Norman due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down in-person recruiting. He had visited Troy and Dallas-Fort Worth campuses like SMU, TCU and North Texas.
That was hard. But Kingfisher star and fellow OU signee Bijan Cortes offered insight.
“The way OU looks — I’ve seen pictures — it’s going to be nice,” CJ said.
CJ was the Sooners’ priority.
Kruger and his staff had a weekly Zoom with CJ and his family for five straight weeks leading up to November’s signing period.
That and the Sooners’ style of play under Kruger won over CJ in November.
“They were true salesmen,” Belvis said. “They did exactly what it took for CJ to believe in them and know that he could trust their coaching and their program to make him a better player and person.”
That still made the past few weeks tough.
CJ found out Kruger was retiring during a workout. He wasn’t sure what to do. Belvis told him to not rush a decision. The transfer portal is full of good players, so there’s no guarantee of finding a good landing place should he look elsewhere.
The gamble wasn’t worth it.
“I owed OU all the respect to let them recruit me first,” CJ said. “I’m committed to OU. I didn't want to jump the gun and do something I would regret later.”
And it helped that Moser immediately added former SMU and Texas assistant K.T. Turner to his staff.
Turner’s father, Ken, was on the coaching staff at Kansas State when Belvis was a player. Belvis remembers K.T. as a young child.
K.T. recruited CJ at SMU. K.T. and Belvis have spoken nearly every day the past few weeks.
Good thing, too. It helped seal the deal for the Sooners’ key recruit.
“OU had too many pluses in their favor,” Belvis said. “It didn’t matter who the coach was.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh.