When Bob Marlin pondered the ending of last men’s basketball season for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a quick mention of the number four generated a focused moment of pride.
The UL-Lafayette coach recalled that the Cajuns finished their second-round, NCAA tournament loss to Creighton with four turnovers in a team effort that included the contribution of former Cajuns and current Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton. “We stressed taking care of the ball last year, and we take pride in taking care of the ball,” Marlin said. “We did put the ball in Elfrid’s hands at the end of games. He did our team right, and did himself right.”
As the Cajuns head into the 2014-15 season, which starts at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday with an exhibition game at the Cajundome against Loyola of New Orleans, the quest to be good caretakers of the ball continues. Marlin has a handful of options he can mix and match at point guard and shooting guard.
Junior Kasey Shepherd served as Payton’s backup last season until a knee ligament tear ended Shepherd’s season early. Jay Wright, a Georgia native who transferred to UL-Lafayette from Casper College in Wyoming, is another potential primary ball handler. Wright averaged 16.4 points and 4.7 assists last season at Casper.
Senior Xavian Rimmer, at 6-2 and 225 pounds, has the experience and strength to advance the ball when the Cajuns face full-court pressure from opponents.
“Any guard has to be strong with the ball and be able to escape double-teams,” Marlin said. “We want them to face the basket and not turn their backs (on defenders). We are tough on our point guards. A lot of the challenge they face is mental.”
In addition to the guards’ responsibilities, Marlin noted the forwards and centers have to be ready to help relieve pressure.
“We are going to keep some guys back when we face a (defensive) press because it’s my experience if you have five guys breaking pressure, it gets crowded,” Marlin said.
When the Cajuns are in half-court situations, one key for Shepherd, Wright, Rimmer, junior Steven Wronkoski and the other guards to initiate the offense efficiently is to go by air and not by ground.
“Everybody wants to go off the bounce, and the game has turned into a dribble-drive game,” Marlin said. “But you never want to dribble when you can pass to move the ball more quickly.”
The drive for success and putting up low team turnover numbers will take a different shape this year, while still being based on a team effort.
“When Elfrid was drafted, a couple of guys wanted that challenge (of being the point guard),” Marlin said. “This team is in control of its destiny. For guys like (forward) Brian Williams, (center) J.J. Davenport and Rimmer, this is their last season of college basketball. They need to make the most out of this year.”
That first step against Loyola will be preceded by the Cajuns’ women’s team taking the floor at 5 p.m. in an exhibition game against LSU-Alexandria. Both games of the doubleheader will be free for fans.