Cajuns basketball notebook: Summer spent abroad broadens Cajuns’ horizons _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- UL-Lafayette guard Jay Wright

LAFAYETTE — With a handful of March wins in their pockets, both Louisiana-Lafayette women’s basketball coach Garry Brodhead and men’s counterpart Bob Marlin were optimistic about their programs’ future when they addressed media members Monday.

Brodhead’s team won the 16-team Women’s Basketball Invitational, defeating Siena 52-50 in the championship game Sunday at Earl K. Long Gym.

“I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction, and this definitely helped,” Brodhead said.

The men’s team fell in the tournament quarterfinals to Evansville but finished the season with nine wins in its final 11 games — what Marlin sees as a continuation of a trend of his program playing its best ball at the right time of year.

“The last two years, we finished the season 20-5 in the last week of January and Feburary and March,” Marlin said. “The five years that we’ve been here, we’re 43-16 (in that time span). That’s pretty impressive when you know the last game’s always a loss as well.”

With the offseason now upon both coaches, they said they would recover lost time recruiting, with a recruiting dead period starting for both men’s and women’s basketball this week. But both coaches said they should bring back a large chunk of their rosters from this season.

The only player Brodhead is losing is senior Robbie Brown, who provided a late spark in the win against Siena. It’s a little more unclear for Marlin, who will have to wait on junior forward Shawn Long’s NBA decision, but he’ll still have at least 80 percent of his starting lineup and some top reserves coming back.

“We like our nucleus of players that are here,” Marlin said. “We’ve got to go add a couple of pieces, and we look forward to the opportunity to do that here in the next couple of weeks. I feel good about the direction we’re going and the stability we have in our program.”

Louisiana globetrotter

Like his predecessor at point guard, Jay Wright appears to be set to travel this summer to play with Sports Reach, a Kentucky-based sports ministry whose mission is stated as “reaching and teaching the world through sports.”

Former Cajuns guard Elfrid Payton took the same trip before his junior season.

“Last time we sent a point guard, they were really happy and it really helped Elfrid,” Marlin said. “Jay’s going to have an opportunity to go to the Far East. … It could be a great opportunity for Jay to go around the world almost and get some good experience.”

Marlin said Wright, who averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 assists in his first year with the program, would be gone May 9-24.

Wright was named as one of 25 finalists for the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year award Monday. Payton won the award last season.

Hard-working Veal

Keke Veal was named WBI tournament MVP, but her comments after the game made Brodhead happiest.

“She’s been the most talented kid on our team since she came in,” Brodhead said. “To me, I think she’s seeing results. She’s the type of kid that needs to see it. She’s starting to work harder in practice, but I loved the comment she made how, ‘As soon as spring break’s over, I’m getting in the gym because I know I’ve got to get better.’ I haven’t heard that comment since she’s been here.”

Veal led the team with averages of 14.9 points and 3.3 assists this season.