LAFAYETTE — As the University of Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team nears the midway point of its preseason preparations for a Nov. 9 exhibition opener against Mississippi College, the Ragin’ Cajuns are balancing between stepping on the gas and hitting the brakes to conserve fuel.
The Cajuns are in the midst of their run of 42 days and 30 practices between the start of camp and their first game. Having a veteran core group that features five returning starters has enabled Cajuns coach Bob Marlin and the assistants to make some changes and run at a fast pace.
“We have mixed up drills and some of our coverages defensively,” Marlin said. “We have been practicing with a 24-second shot clock.”
Teams will have 30 seconds to shoot thanks to an NCAA rule change this season that trimmed the shot clock from 35.
In contrast to that quick pace of play, the Cajuns also have had a chance to back off when needed.
“I see a lot of teams that work their guys too hard in September and October, and they have no legs in February and March,” Marlin said. “That’s when it all happens. The tournament, for our league, is what everybody is shooting for. We want to give our guys some time off and make sure they have their legs.”
The big three
Marlin cited shooting as a strength for the Cajuns this year before he mentioned a few areas that will be vital for success.
“We have to take good care of the ball and be better defensively,” he said. “If we do that throughout the course of a 40-minute game and we get some early confidence on the road, which we are going to need going into our conference schedule, that will help us.”
Seeing is believing
To four Cajuns, working toward the goal of a return trip to the NCAA tournament is a process based partly upon the visual reality of the 2013-14 season when current seniors Shawn Long, Steven Wronkoski, Kasey Shepherd and junior Hayward Register were part of the team that faced Creighton in San Antonio.
“Our players who were here as part of that group know what it’s like to play in the NCAA tournament and cut down nets in New Orleans (after winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament),” Marlin said. “That’s something they are planning on doing, and anything short of that will be disappointing for us. Certainly, there are other tournaments we can go to. If you win the league, you go to the NIT. The CIT is the hottest mid-major tournament out there. We have been successful in that. The NCAA (tourney) is where you want to be.”
Lone Star leader
Texas native Jay Hedgeman, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound junior who averaged 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 31 games for San Jacinto College last season, has taken some early steps to make an impression on his teammates and the coaches.
“Jay has done a really good job from day one,” Marlin said. “He was not here this summer, but he came in, worked hard and he earned his teammates’ respect. He has been a leader. I think, if you asked our guys 1 through 15 who their favorite teammate is, it would be Jay Hedgeman. He is versatile. He does a little bit of everything. His mentality reminds me of Bryce Washington.”