Advocate file photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ -- UL-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton, a potential first-round NBA draft pick, has become known for his defense.

Elfrid Payton, a lightly regarded recruit who rose to stardom at Louisiana-Lafayette, leading the Ragin’ Cajuns to the NCAA tournament this season, is going pro.

Payton released a statement through the athletic department Monday saying he will forgo his final year of eligibility for the NBA draft.

“This has been a long and engaging process for both me and my family. ... I sincerely want to say ‘thank you’ to my coaches, my teammates, and most importantly the great Ragin’ Cajun fans that have supported me during the last three seasons,” he said in the statement. “This has been a great three years where I’ve grown up, both on and off the court. I will be Cajun forever. Thank you for everything.”

In a statement, UL-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said: “As always, I support Elfrid and will continue to do so. For the past three years, I have watched him develop as a tremendous leader, both on and off the court. He has met every challenge that has been presented to him in the game of basketball — from high school, to competing for USA Basketball, and most importantly, helping restore the rich tradition of Ragin’ Cajuns basketball.”

Payton, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard out of John Ehret High, averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists for the Cajuns, who rally to defeat Georgia State in an 82-81 overtime thriller in the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

They threw a scare into Creighton before losing 76-66 in the NCAA tournament.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association named Payton its Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, and named Payton the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year.