ACA.ulmenhoops.031519.19.JPG

UL mourns its loss to South Alabama in its Sun Belt Conference Tournament opener Thursday at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.

Upon hearing about these three transfers heading to coach Bob Marlin’s UL Ragin’ Cajuns basketball program from power-five programs for the first time two years ago, my first reaction was to consider the odds.

Over the years, some similar-type transfers have worked out very well and others just haven’t. It’s no where near a slam-dunk process no matter how good the conferences were that recruited them out of high school.

My initial conclusion was the Cajuns would be fortunate if two of the three worked out, but the odds of all three panning out were slim.

Long before the Cajuns' 2018-19 season effectively ended Thursday at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans due to a heartbreaking 70-69 loss to South Alabama, it was pretty obvious this trio defied the odds.

In so many ways, JaKeenan Gant, Marcus Stroman and Malik Marquetti worked out better than most critics anticipated.

Gant finished out one of the most prolific individual seasons in program history Thursday.

The statement that he was the only Division I player in America this season to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots for most of the season is a testament to exactly how many areas of the game he impacted.

At times, he literally carried this team.

He finished at 20.5 points and 8.7 rebounds, while shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point land, 54.3 percent from the field and 78.6 at the line.

“JaKeenan has been special,” Marlin said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s shot the ball well. He led the league in double-doubles. We all know the stats he’s brought to the table. They’re definitely worthy of Player of the Year, but our coaches didn’t even vote him on the first team (in preseason), so I don’t think they respected him from last year.

“But he was fantastic all season. He’s done a great job and I think he’s a bright future. I’m really proud of the way he worked and accepted coaching.”

Stroman was definitely a throwback to the old-school point guard.

“Marcus,” Marlin detailed, “200 assists in back-to-back years, the only Cajun guard to ever do that, and we’ve had some guards here as you guys know. One of them was in our locker room just a minute ago.

“I thought he did a great job tonight. He came up with some big steals to try to lead us to victory just like he did the last two games in Arkansas. But Marcus stepped up when Malik (Marquetti) went down and has scored more and done a great job with leadership.”

When he suffered his season-ending knee injury on Dec. 29 in Hammond, Marquetti was leading the Sun Belt in free-throw and 3-point shooting. He was a glue player whose absence left a void UL was never able to fill.

“I love both of those guys and Malik’s the third guy,” Marlin said. “We don’t talk about him. He did a great job for us. He was our best defender and best shooter when he went out, so I think he’s an all-conference (level) player.

“We lost the conference championship by three games and I think Malik makes up that difference. I don’t think there’s any question that we have a different outcome of our season if he’s healthy.”

During their two years, UL tied the school record for 48 total wins in a two-year period, including the most wins in school history with 27 last season.

Unfortunately in the minds of some, though, only the bottom line matters.

The only category this trio didn’t “work out” in anyone’s book was not finishing out seasons in a way that met midseason expectations.

Last year, Gant was hampered with an illness down the stretch. UL was upset in the Sun Belt semifinals after winning the outright conference title and lost in the opening round of the NIT.

This year, Marquetti missed the second half of the season and the Cajuns lost in their first Sun Belt tournament game.

In the end, its supporting cast just wasn’t productive enough.

Now comes the chore of replacing them. Good luck with that.

Perhaps it won’t be until they're gone for people to truly appreciate what this trio brought to the table.


Follow Kevin Foote on Twitter, @FooteNote.