A Whole New Doo
With the Oklahoma men’s basketball team clinging to a one-point lead at home against No. 25-ranked TCU last Saturday afternoon, the final seconds belonged to Sooners junior forward Kristian Doolittle.
Actually, Doolittle did significantly more than a little the entire second half.
With 26.2 seconds remaining, Doolittle snared a key defensive rebound in traffic and was fouled. He buried both free throws to give OU a three-point lead.
After the Horned Frogs tied the score on a 3-pointer, Sooners head coach Lon Kruger called timeout to draw up a potential game-winning play.
"I think he’s the best defensive player in the conference in terms of being able to cover all five spots...Now he’s starting to have that same confidence at the offensive end."
- Lon Kruger
Kruger sketched the sequence for Doolittle, who drove right from the top of the key and banked in a running 5-footer from the right block with 3.2 seconds remaining for a 76-74 victory at Lloyd Noble Center.
“He made a good play,” Kruger said. “It was not an easy shot, but a strong finish. I’m happy for him.”
Doolittle finished with 24 points (scoring 20 in the second half on 7-of-8 shooting) and added 10 rebounds for his first double-double since his freshman season. What transpired against TCU rekindled the anticipation of what the future might hold for Doolittle after his intriguing rookie year at OU.
When the No. 20-ranked Sooners face Texas at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Doolittle returns to the site of his career performance two years earlier.
During his freshman visit, Doolittle erupted for a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds, although the Longhorns posted an 84-83 victory on an Andrew Jones deep 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left.
“It showed really what I’m capable of on my best night,” Doolittle recalled of that game. “I know I’m more than capable of doing anything.”
Doolittle and the Sooners head to Austin this weekend, where the forward produced a 29-point double-double two seasons ago.
Just two days earlier, Doolittle had collected 15 points and 15 rebounds at home against Iowa State for his first career double-double. In the regular-season finale on March 3, he added another double-double with a 19-point, 13-rebound effort against TCU.
With such an imposing finish to his freshman year, big things were expected of Doolittle entering his sophomore season. Instead, he was suspended from the university the following fall for academic reasons. Doolittle was not allowed to attend OU and was omitted from the 2017-18 media guide. He was not listed on the roster, his biographical information was removed and he was not included in team photos.
“It put a damper on things,” said Doolittle, who worked out at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in an effort to stay in shape. “I lost my momentum (from his freshman season). I lost the rhythm that I had. Working out, in general, is so different. I missed all the plays and the comradery of my teammates. It took a lot out of me.”
Doolittle missed the first nine games last season and didn’t return until Dec. 19. In his 22 appearances, Doolittle did not have a double-double and not once did he ever reach double-digits in scoring. After averaging 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and leading the team in 3-point field goal percentage (.395) as a freshman, Doolittle dipped to 2.9 points and 4.3 rebounds as a sophomore.
“Obviously, he was embarrassed,” Kruger said of Doolittle serving his suspension. “His confidence was knocked back a little bit and didn’t get the results on the court. He’s persevered and handled it well. I think he’s learned from it and continues to make progress.”
Doolittle freely admits his confidence had plummeted. “When I got back, you could tell I had missed a semester,” he said. “I didn’t look like I belonged out there. I just wasn’t myself. I always expect myself to play good enough to impact the game in a positive way. You can ask my coaches, no one will be as hard on me as I will be on myself. That motivates me to never be satisfied.”
Kruger said Doolittle often has been too hard on himself.
“I think that’s part of what slowed his development offensively,” Kruger said. “He’s very conscientious. He wants everything to be just right. Several times, we’ve said, ‘Let it go. Go make a mistake. Go swing away.’ Not only is he swinging away, he’s starting to get good results.”
Kruger said Doolittle’s re-transformation has evolved.
“I don’t think there was a single moment it came,” Kruger said. “In the last five or six games, you can see a steady progression in stats and results. He’s starting to want the ball more. He’s starting to get better results, which makes you want the ball more. It’s kind of feeding itself, which is fantastic.”
A noticeable shift commenced with OU’s 83-70 victory over Creighton at Lloyd Noble Center on Dec. 18 when Doolittle was removed from the starting lineup yet still reached double-digits in scoring for the first time this season, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds.
Since then, Doolittle has threatened a double-double in points and rebounds every game and finally reached the threshold against TCU last Saturday.
“Feels really good,” said Doolittle, admitting more double-doubles could be on the way.
In Kruger’s opinion, Doolittle rates among the nation’s best defenders.
Through five conference games, Doolittle is averaging 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
“He’s always been very confident defensively,” Kruger said. “I think he’s the best defensive player in the conference in terms of being able to cover all five spots, which he’s done, and to have the awareness he’s got and the ability to communicate. He’s very, very sharp and confident defensively.”
The powerful Doolittle has added 15 pounds since arriving from Edmond Memorial High School and now weighs 230.
The 6-foot-7 Doolittle has started at three different positions – the 5, 4 and 3 – and has defended all five positions, even matching up at the point from time to time. “His versatility is a big bonus,” Kruger said.
“I feel I’m strong enough I can hold my own down low, but I’m also agile enough to keep up with those smaller than me,” Doolittle said. “I feel like I’m perfectly in the middle.”
Kruger said Doolittle’s success at the defensive end has helped him re-discover his offensive capabilities.
“He’s got a really good skill set,” Kruger said. “I think now we’re just starting to see the foundation for it. I think he’s going to keep getting better. He’s done that defensively and I think we’ll start seeing similar progress on the offensive end. He’s a very skilled guy. It’s great to see him doing what he’s doing. Now he’s starting to have that same confidence at the offensive end, which is fantastic. We need that a lot. I can’t imagine that happening three weeks ago.”
And now those lofty expectations that previously surrounded Doolittle have returned.
“We have confidence in him because he has confidence in himself,” Kruger said.