LAFAYETTE — There’s a saying University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin is quite fond of, one he used most recently earlier this week at practice: “It’s never as bad as it seems, and it’s never as good as it seems.”
Senior guard Kasey Shepherd is one of several veteran Cajuns who has heard that message so many times that it’s become part of his own lexicon. It’s wisdom he’s taken from Marlin and imparted upon younger players who might have started pressing after the Cajuns stumbled to a 3-6 start this season.
“He says that every year multiple times, so I know the motto already,” Shepherd said. “Being here for three years, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it go up and down, so I know, when it’s bad, it’s OK. We can always turn it around. But when it’s good, you can’t get too high. You’ve got to remember to come out and play hard every night.
“I try to use my seniority to help the guys have the same attitude that I have. A lot of the new guys, it’s easy for them if we lose a game, to freak out. We could’ve played good and just came up a little short.”
Shepherd isn’t just paying lip service when he says he’s seen it happen before.
In the 2013-14 season, the Cajuns started out 8-5, but that stretch included double digit losses to Arkansas, Baylor and Louisville, as well as a tight loss to Jackson State. The Cajuns then started out their conference slate by dropping five of their first eight games.
That team clicked at the end of the season and won the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Last year, the Cajuns started out the season 3-4 then had a midseason swoon in which they went 1-5 during one stretch of conference play. That team won nine of its final 11 games to finish with a solid 22 wins.
There are four key players on this year’s team who were on both those teams, with Shepherd being joined by Shawn Long, Steve Wronkoski, Hayward Register. Several more played big roles on last season’s team.
The Cajuns veterans have been through the ups and the downs and have witnessed how one bad stretch. or even two, doesn’t define a season.
“These guys know that the conference is the most important part of the season,” Marlin said. “They know we’ve played a good schedule.”
That said, Marlin isn’t under the illusion that things are going to be easier once the conference slate starts in earnest Saturday against Appalachian State. He said the conference, top-to-bottom, is as strong as it has been since he took over as the Cajuns coach, and anticipates his team having to deal with some more adversity at some point this season.
The team seems to share that understanding, perhaps because it’s been in this situation before.
Perception and reality are never truly aligned, and the Cajuns’ current 4-6 record might not be a true indicator of where their team is, but the veterans are also aware that, while it may not be as bad as it seems, there are still plenty of things to be corrected.
“We’ve only played one conference game,” Shepherd said, referring to the Cajuns loss to ULM earlier this season. “We’re 0-1, and we have 19 games left. So there’s plenty of time. But at the same time, you can only say that for so long. You can only say ‘We’ve got a lot of games to play’ for so long until it gets to the point where it doesn’t matter.
“The things that we’re doing wrong now, yeah we do have a lot of time to correct it, but we need to do it now. Because after Wednesday, that’s when it counts for real.”