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UL men's basketball coach Bob Marlin is encouraged by a busy offseason and looks forward to his 2020-21 club coming together for team drills later in July.

It’s been an eventful offseason for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball program, despite all the inactivity in the sports world since the week coach Bob Marlin’s team was eliminated from the Sun Belt Conference tournament 82-81 at Georgia Southern on March 9.

And technically, it’s not over yet with the eligibility of two newcomers still in question.

But Marlin is convinced his staff has effectively maneuvered through the musical chairs process and looks forward to reconvening as a team on July 20.

“It was difficult in March and April and even May,” Marlin said. “It started to slow down a little bit toward the end of May. We're excited. We like our group.”

Marlin warns, however, not to confuse a busy offseason with such other descriptions as confusing or troubling.

“I read where Matt (UL baseball coach Matt Deggs) said nothing with the transfer portal caught them off guard,” Marlin explained. “Same thing here with us. The portal works both ways. It’s not always a players’ portal. There are guys who put their name in there and then there are guys who are non-renewed, too. So that worked out the way we thought it would.”

Basically, five players from last season’s roster — Jalen Johnson (Mississippi State), Javonne Lowery, Tirus Smith (Mississippi Valley State), Calvin Temple (Jackson State) and Kristan Lafayette — and five newcomers were added.

Of the additions, 6-foot-4 junior Brayan Au, 6-1 freshman Michael Thomas and most recently 6-6 sophomore Devin Butts from Mississippi State are cleared to play.

That leaves 6-11 junior Theo Akwuba from Portland and 6-10 freshman Isaiah Richards from Commonwealth Academy in Connecticut awaiting word from the NCAA on waiver claims that could potentially earn them immediate eligibility.

“(UL compliance director) Tom Burke has done an outstanding job, along with our assistant coaches, of communicating with the NCAA in trying to get the waiver process sped up,” Marlin said. “We’re still waiting on a couple of others. We could know in a couple of weeks.

“We’ve had a good plan in place and our compliance department has done a great job. We just have to wait on the NCAA. Hopefully we’ll know something in the next few weeks or definitely by the end of July or the first of August.”

Once the dust finally settles, Marlin’s plan is for all the offseason activity to produce a team capable of competing for a Sun Belt crown next season.

Last season was only the third time in his 27 years as a head coach that Marlin endured a losing conference season.

“We just didn’t have enough firepower to get it done,” he said.

In other words, the flurry of offseason activity was simply a matter of addressing needed issues.

“We need to get healthy and we needed to get bigger,” Marlin said. “We need to be better defensively. We need to be more competitive and we need to shoot the ball better. I think we’ve addressed all of those areas, but it all goes back to staying healthy. Injuries have really cost us the last two years.”

Last year’s injury trend began in the summer with 6-5 guard Durey Cadwell and really became a huge obstacle when 6-6 freshman Kobe Julien went down for the season.

“He (Cadwell) is at the end of his rehab,” Marlin said. “We’re going to work him in slowly when we start practice. He’s getting to the point where he’s going to be cleared. Kobe is close as well. Both of those guys have had good springs and should be a full-go by the time the season starts.”

With Richards not yet in town with the team, 11 players began voluntary shooting Wednesday, followed by weight room and conditioning starting Monday. That individual work continues through July 19, the day before team sessions are scheduled to begin and run through the start of school on Aug. 17.

“Essentially, we traded June for August,” said Marlin, who said he’s comfortable with the athletic department’s coronavirus plan.

“We’re certainly being cautious. Every university has a different protocol. We’re very pleased with what our campus administration has put into place. We’re certainly going to adhere to what we’re supposed to do. I know football is doing it now.”

If the anticipated NCAA rulings go UL’s favor by the end of July, Marlin looks forward to truly contending for the Sun Belt crown again.

“I think we really helped ourselves at every position,” he said. “We’ve got some depth and some competitive young man that want to win and are going to put the team first. We feel like we’re going to have a really good group and a group that’s going to compete for a conference championship.”


Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.