One day at a time.
That’s how now-former Sooner Kristian Doolittle is handling himself just days after he learned his collegiate career had come to a premature end after the NCAA canceled its season due the coronavirus pandemic.
Doolittle, Oklahoma’s lone senior, and his teammates were already in Kansas City, Missouri, and they were hours away from their tipoff against West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament when they learned that several other conferences had canceled their tournaments.
He and the Sooners suspected the worst — and, eventually, as Texas and Texas Tech players were pulled off the court minutes prior to the start of their matchup — they were proven right.
“We figured (canceling the Big 12 tournament) was only a matter of time,” Doolittle said. “When we saw the rest of the season had been canceled, it was upsetting. It was disheartening (for) all the work that we put in to potentially make the tournament … but the reasons (for the tournament’s cancellation) are valid.
“It’s bigger than basketball. I know more than anything that it was unfortunate, but you gotta think bigger than basketball in terms of everyone’s health and safety.”
Doolittle’s four-year journey in an Oklahoma uniform ends in a season where he was playing the best basketball of his life.
The Edmond, Oklahoma, native was averaging a career high in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. During the season, he became the 47th Sooner to join the 1,000-career points club and was the first Sooner since Trae Young to earn All-Big 12 First Team honors.
For Doolittle — and for collegiate seniors around the country — to have his career meet a premature end for reasons beyond his control is nothing short of heartbreaking. Although the NCAA granted eligibility relief for student-athletes participating in spring sports, a decision on whether to allow winter sport student-athletes to return for one more year has not yet been reached.
If the NCAA does decide to grant winter sport student-athletes another year of eligibility, Doolittle is still unsure if he’d return to Oklahoma.
“That’s something I’ll consult with my family about,” he said. “We’ll see what the best move is for me going forward. Whether that’s coming back or seeing what’s next after college, as of now I don’t know.”
Regardless of whatever the future of his playing career holds, Doolittle is proud of the lessons he learned this season.
“Being a mentor for my teammates, having the most experience on a team with a lot of growing pains and always staying positive, always staying encouraging,” he said. “Even when things aren’t going well for me, just putting personal (aspects) aside and focusing on what’s best for the team. I feel like I got better with that as the season went along.
“We proved a lot of people wrong this year. When things weren’t going well for us, people were counting us out and saying a lot of negative things — we were able to block out the noise. We continued to work hard every day and not give up.”
As for the future of the rest of the team, Doolittle believes that — with or without him receiving an extra year of eligibility — Lon Kruger’s team is in good hands for next season.
“They’ll be really good next year,” Doolittle said. “Removing myself from the picture and seeing what the team is without me — Austin (Reaves) and Brady (Manek) will continue to get better. Jamal (Bieniemy) and De’Vion (Harmon) will also get better, and will play different roles and have different responsibilities.
“(Coach Kruger) does a really good job of putting people in positions to be successful. Working with the strength that each individual player has and ultimately creating plays for them to do those things at a high level. They’re in a step in the right direction, for sure.”