Starting five: What you need to know to get ready for the UL-Lafayette men’s basketball season? _lowres

Advocate file photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- UL-Lafayette forward Shawn Long

LAFAYETTE — If it wasn’t official before, it is now — big things are expected out of the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team this season.

With the top eight players from last season’s team returning, including senior forward Shawn Long, the Cajuns were tabbed as near unanimous favorites to win the Sun Belt Conference in the preseason coaches poll.

The coaches also selected Long as the league’s preseason Player of the Year, while selecting forward Devonta Walker and point guard Jay Wright to the league’s third team.

The Cajuns secured nine of the 11 possible first place votes by the league’s coaches to finish with 119 points in the poll, 11 more than second-place Georgia State, who received the other two first-place votes.

“Our players and staff are excited about being the top pick in the Sun Belt’s preseason poll,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “The expectations and demands of our program remain high.

The Cajuns’ surge to the finish line last season, combined with its returning players, has given the team confidence that it can improve on last year’s 22-14 campaign that resulted in a fourth-place finish in the league.

“We have our top eight players back from a team that finished last season strong by winning nine of the final 11 games,” Marlin said.

Georgia State has won the last two regular season titles as well as last year’s SBC tournament, but will be replacing the stellar backcourt duo of Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter.

The Cajuns’ chances this season figure to hinge on Long, who surprised some with his decision to return for his senior season rather than enter the NBA draft.

Long averaged 16.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season, numbers that likely would’ve been even better had it not been for an injury that slowed him down at the outset of the season.

He’s the NCAA’s active leader in double doubles, and by all indications from those around the program, he’s more focused and in better shape physically now than he has been at any other point in his Cajuns career.

Long had a busy summer that included him earning a roster spot during a challenging training camp with Team USA for the Pan American games to go along with a trip to the Nike Skills Academy.

“Shawn has worked extremely hard this spring and summer to have a great senior season,” Marlin said. ”He has improved every year and has proven to be one of the best scorers and rebounders in the college game.

“He is in the best shape of his life and doing a great job of leading our team. The USA basketball experience helped his maturity and improved his leadership skills.”

Long became the fourth Cajuns athlete in the last calendar year — joining baseball’s Blake Trahan, softball’s Lexie Elkins and football’s Elijah McGuire — to be nominated for the league’s top individual honor in his or her sport’s preseason poll.

Wright and Walker rounded out the Cajuns individual honors, with both being chosen for the Sun Belt’s third team.

Wright and Walker both came to the Cajuns from the junior college ranks last season and were immediate impact starters for the Cajuns, with each averaging better than nine points per game.

The Cajuns open up their season with an exhibition game against Mississippi College on Nov. 9 before the real season starts Nov. 13 against Louisiana College.

Sun Belt Conference Preseason Basketball Coaches Poll

(First-place votes in parentheses)

Team Points

1. UL-Lafayette (9) 119

2. Georgia State (2) 108

3. UL-Monroe 97

4. Arkansas State 71

5. Arkansas-Little Rock 68

6. Appalachian State 64

7. South Alabama 56

8. UT Arlington 48

Texas State 48

10. Georgia Southern 28

11. Troy 19

Preseason Sun Belt All-Conference teams

First team

F Anthony Livingston, Arkansas State, Jr.

F/C Shawn Long, UL-Lafayette, Sr.

G Ken Williams, South Alabama, Jr.

F Emani Gant, Texas State, Sr.

F Wesley Person, Troy, Soph.

Second team

G Frank Eaves, Appalachian State, Sr.

F Markus Crider, Georgia State, Sr.

G Kevin Ware, Georgia State, Sr.

G Josh Hagins, Ark.-Little Rock, Sr.

F Majok Deng, UL-Monroe, Sr.

Third team All-Conference

F Jeremy Hollowell, Georgia State, RS-Junior

F Roger Woods, Ark.-Little Rock, Sr.

F Devonta Walker, UL-Lafayette, Sr.

G Jay Wright, UL-Lafayette, Jr.

G Nick Coppola, UL-Monroe, Jr.

PreseasonAthlete of the Year

Shawn Long, UL-Lafayette