Sooners turn to transfer portal to bolster future guard depth

North Texas' Umoja Gibson (1) shoots over Dayton's Jalen Crutcher (10) Dec. 17, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Gibson will be joining the Sooners as a transfer. 

NORMAN, Okla. — What Oklahoma’s backcourt has recently lacked in continuity, Sooners head coach Lon Kruger has generally made up for with taking advantage of the transfer portal.

Following OU's 2016 Final Four run led by then-senior guards Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, Kruger’s had to replace at least one or more starting guards each season since. The next two years should follow that trend with OU losing a starter this offseason and presumptive starter Austin Reaves graduating the next.

OU’s 2020-21 season was supposed to break the cycle with only senior forward Kristian Doolittle to replace from this past year’s team. Doolittle, an All-Big 12 forward, is no small loss but the Sooners’ backcourt seemed solidified with Reaves, junior Jamal Bieniemy and sophomore De’Vion Harmon.

Those plans have changed.

Bieniemy, a Katy, Texas, native, will seek a different environment next season, entering the transfer portal after emerging as a starter midway through his freshman year in 2019. His departure, along with Sooner center Corbin Merritt’s transfer to Austin Peay, freed OU to two scholarships; both of which Kruger used to bolster his backcourt.

OU landed North Texas’ Umoja Gibson and California State-Northridge’s Elijah Harkless, who both possess two years of eligibility.

The only issue? Both players will sit out the Sooners’ 2020-21 season because of NCAA transfer rules.

It’s not the same immediate injection of depth guards Miles Reynolds and Aaron Calixte provided OU’s 2018-19 roster as graduate transfers by way of Pacific and Maine, respectively. Kruger, who spoke with reporters Wednesday via Zoom, is still delighted to have both on board with a year to develop them.

“Both of them in talking to their coaches from previous schools, they said the same things in terms of [being] very team-oriented, very self-motivated, gym rats,” Kruger said. “They love to work on their game, willing to do whatever. They said all the things that as a coach you like hearing about a player.”

Gibson, who goes by “Mo,” might be familiar to OU fans that closely followed the Sooners’ latest season.

The 6-foot-1 guard from Waco, Texas, dropped 21 points last Dec. 5 when OU visited North Texas. OU narrowly won 82-80 but Gibson's performance caught Kruger's attention.

“We certainly respect Mo’s game,” Kruger said. “He played very well against us, especially in Denton last season. ... So, it will be a little strange having played against him last year, but it will be good to have him as a Sooner.”

Gibson earned Conference USA all-conference second-team honors this past season. He averaged 14.5 points and shot 39.4% from the 3-point line in his first full year as a starter.

Harkless had a similar breakout season with Cal State-Northridge, averaging 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and shooting 36% from the perimeter. He also led the Big West Conference with 1.7 steals per game.

“They’re so excited to be [coming] here and can’t wait to get here,” Kruger said. “It’s unfortunate we’ve got the pandemic. That kind of throws everyone off-kilter a bit. But whenever we can get them here, I know they’ll be excited and we look forward to that.”

The two will be vital pieces to OU’s transition with Reaves soon finishing his OU career. Reaves provided a stabilizing presence this past season after transferring from Wichita State to OU and sitting out the 2018-19 season.

Kruger has to hope Gibson and Harkless can develop all the same.

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Buettner writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI LLC publication.

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