It’s been quite an eventful offseason for the Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball program.
Like so many, if your primary focus has been on the coronavirus, social distancing, unexpected financial burdens and/or landmark social issues over the past three months, it’s possible you won’t recognize the basketball roster once the dust settles.
Tirus Smith and Javonne Lowery have entered the transfer portal the last two days, increasing the total number of UL players from last season's team now in the portal to five.
Before Smith and Lowery's decisions, forward Jalen Johnson transferred to Mississippi State, guard Calvin Temple left for Jackson State and center Kristian Lafayette also entered the portal.
UL coach Bob Marlin’s men’s basketball program got even bigger and more physical Friday with the signing of 6-foot-10 center Isaiah Richards.
Add outgoing seniors P.J. Hardy and Mason Aucoin — not to mention midseason walk-on Jaylon Williams — and the preseason photo for the 2020-21 Cajuns squad won’t look anything like the picture taken last fall.
Multiple requests for comments on UL’s offseason of musical chairs were unsuccessful, but let’s try to make some sense of it all anyway.
There are several different ways to view this movement, and some of those paths can get quite complicated as we stand in early June.
First, is it time to panic if you’re a UL basketball fan? Absolutely not.
There’s no way to know how things are going to work out next season after this turnover. No one could have anticipated all the injuries that derailed last year's club.
On one hand, last year’s team went 14-19 overall and 8-12 in league play. That’s not the kind of record anyone around the program wants, so perhaps changes were needed.
On the flip side, many were willing to give the program somewhat of a pass because of the injuries.
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Looking at the five players who entered the portal, the group includes representatives of different categories. Johnson was technically the team’s leading scorer and rebounder a year ago at 15.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He certainly has skills and could have helped next year’s club.
But he was only the team’s leading rebounder because of injury. That wasn’t in the plan, forcing him to play out of position. He only made 28.9% of his 3-pointers and for all the preseason talk about how well last year’s squad got along behind the scenes, Johnson never seemed to fit into the team offensive rhythm for whatever reason.
Meanwhile, Smith began last season not available because of an undisclosed medical condition and ended the season suspended from the team.
It was unclear if he would even be allowed back on the team after UL was eliminated by Georgia Southern 82-81 from the Sun Belt tournament just before the coronavirus shutdown. The 6-foot-8 Smith averaged 8.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. If healthy and available all season, UL would have likely had a winning season.
“I’d also like to thank my teammates for holding me accountable for my own actions and for sticking by my side through it all,” Smith tweeted out in his announcement Monday that he was leaving the program.
He had better basketball ahead of him and could have helped next season.
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Lowery never got to play because of injury as a freshman, so there’s no way to know what coach Bob Marlin’s staff is missing with his departure.
Calvin Temple, who transferred to UL from IUPUI and has now transferred again, returning to his home state after averaging 3.2 points a game in being thrown to the wolves at times last season because of the team’s long injury list.
The ceiling for Temple and Lafayette (2.2 points, 1.9 rebounds last season) wasn’t likely any higher than help off the bench when needed.
The good news for UL fans is the transaction log went both ways. Marlin’s staff also added its fair share in 6-6 Mississippi State transfer Devin Butts, 6-11 Portland transfer Theo Akuba, 6-4 Ranger junior college transfer Brayan Au and 6-7 Cal transfer Jacobi Gordon.
In prep recruiting, 6-1 guard Michael Thomas from Lake Charles and 6-10 Isaiah Richards from Springfield Commonwealth in Connecticut also joined the program.
If you’re head is spinning, you aren’t alone. That’s an awful lot of movement to process during a mind-numbing period in this nation’s history.
Unfortunately, it gets even more complicated.
It might be a slow time in much of the sports world these days, but things are certainly hopping around the UL men’s basketball program of late.
It’s unclear if Butts, Gordon or Akuba will be eligible for the 2020-21 season.
If they are, there’s likely little to be alarmed about during this roster upheaval.
If they aren’t available right away, then concern is legitimate.
Also making things difficult to process is the inherent uncertainty of Division I transfers. Butts and Gordon come from Power Five programs, but neither had much success during their time there. Gordon was a four-star recruit out of high school in the Houston area and was ranked as the No. 89 prospect nationally. He averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 points in his two seasons in California.
Butts averaged one point a game and will have three years left once declared eligible.
Marlin’s last transfer group of JaKeenan Gant, Marcus Stroman and Malik Marquetti worked out tremendously. Time will tell on Butts, Gordon and Akuba.
In the court of public opinion, next year is a very important one for this program.
However it plays out, the first few home games in the fall will require a roster.
The UL men’s basketball team announced Monday the transfer of guard Devin Butts from Mississippi State.
It appears the staff went after more size after struggling to rebound or defend last season.
There’s reason to believe the Cajuns could get back on the winning track next season after these changes, but eligibility will dictate much of that.
And judging by how this offseason has gone so far, don’t be shocked if more changes are on the way.