After all the injuries UL men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin and his staff have endured in recent years, the first week of practice is obviously far too early in the process to declare the Ragin’ Cajuns healthy for the 2021-22 college basketball season.
But so far, so good.
“We certainly hope so,” Marlin responded. “We’ve got had some guys with double surgeries in the past. Hopefully they go the duration. We feel like most of them can.”
Amazingly, though, point guard Trajan Wesley was hit in the head going for a loose ball on the first day of practice Tuesday and missed the end of the practice, but “he’s good.”
The key figure in that issue is Kobe Julien, who is trying to continue his promising young career after two knee surgeries since his junior season of high school.
“Kobe Julien’s been good at practice,” said Marlin, whose team finished 17-9 last season. “Last year, he was injured and wasn’t able to practice. He’s really done a nice job for us. He’s played well.”
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Julien played in UL’s final four games last season, averaging 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 15.2 minutes of play.
Durey Cadwell, a 6-5 sophomore guard, has suffered back-to-back injured seasons and finally appears ready to suit up for the Cajuns.
“He’s excited,” Marlin said. “Our goal right now is to get him to the Cajundome. He hasn’t practiced in the Cajundome in his time here. He’s practiced at Moncla a couple of times.
“He’s been healthy. He missed a little bit of time this summer. We tried to manage his minutes and build him up, but so far, so good.”
Floor leader Brayan Au and center Theo Akwuba missed the first few days of practice, but there aren’t any long-term concerns there.
The bottom line is, if healthy for a change, this year’s squad will be the biggest and perhaps the most talented team in Marlin’s 12 seasons in Lafayette.
“Absolutely,” Marlin said. “We’re looking to have a big year. Last year, we were in the drivers seat and Brayan went down and we struggled a little bit down the stretch.
“This group certainly brings excitement every day. They work extremely hard. I’m very encouraged about this group. I feel like we have a chance to have a really good team.”
While UL lost its top two scorers from a year ago — Cedric Russell and Mylik Wilson — to transfers, 6-foot-11 center Akwuba returns after averaging 11.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. He’ll be joined by 6-11 Arizona transfer Jordan Brown, 6-10 freshman Isaiah Richards (3.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg last year) and 6-9 forward Dou Gueye (9.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg).
Brown averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds as the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year last season.
“He (Brown) certainly can score and rebound the ball,” Marlin said of Brown. “Isaiah Richards has had a great summer and has gotten a little bit stronger. He’s competed for minutes too.
“We feel like we’ve got guys who can shoot the ball … even capable of making 3-point shots.”
There’s a heavy local flavor on this year’s club with former Lafayette Christian star Greg Williams transferring from St. John’s and former Lafayette High standout Jalen Dalcourt coming home from San Jose State, as well as newcomers Joe Charles from Carencro and Carter Domingue from St. Thomas More.
Marlin said Charles, who opted out his senior prep season, was timid early on, but really picked up steam.
“Man, he has come on like gangbusters since,” he explained. He really shoots the corner 3 real well. He does a super job there. He can make 3s from the wing also. He’s dunked on the big guys in practice in a half-court situation. He can pass the ball. He’s got good length and he’s got really good hands.
“He gets lots of deflections and steals in practice, and he’s got a knack for rebounding the ball. I think our fans will be pleasantly surprised at what Joe brings to our team.”
Marlin added, “Carter’s had a really good summer too. He’s big, strong and I really like what I’ve seen from him.”
Williams is expected to be “one of the best defensive guards in the league and a quality person and teammate. We’re excited that he’s back with us” after making 44% of his 3-pointers in the Big East last year and will be one of the club’s primary ball handlers.
Dalcourt could be one of the team’s instant offense options off the bench.
“Jalen’s certainly capable of doing that,” Marlin said. “He reminds me of a couple of guys we had last year that could really come in and make baskets, but he’s more than a 3-point shooter. He’s really good defensively. He’s an excellent rebounder for his size. He brings energy every day. We’re certainly glad that Jalen’s here.”