Shawn Long Taking Over Elfrid Payton’s Spotlight
Last year was one of the best seasons in program history for the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. They went 23-12, won the Sun Belt conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. While they fell to Creighton in the opening round, the highlight of the year that could change the program for many to come came a couple months later.
Junior point guard Elfrid Payton, an unranked two-star recruit out of high school who didn’t have any high major offers, went 10th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. Originally selected by the Philadelphia 76ers, Payton was eventually traded to the Orlando Magic, where he has a very good chance to be the opening night starter at the point guard position. Payton is the first Ragin’ Cajun since Orien Green (2005-2011) to make it to the NBA and the program’s first first-round pick since Kevin Brooks in 1992. For mid-major programs like La. Lafayette this is somewhat typical. They don’t get five-star, top-150 recruits, but they do come across diamonds in the rough every so often that got overlooked by all of the programs that regularly produce NBA players.
However, there may not be a gap between Payton and the next draft pick, as junior forward Shawn Long is firmly on the NBA radar and a potential 2015 first-round draft pick himself.
While Payton has garnered most of the attention nationally for the past three years, Long has been equally impressive during his first two years with the program. He’s averaged back-to-back double-doubles, with 15.5 points and 10.2 rebounds his freshman year, followed up by 18.6 points, 10.4 points and 2.7 blocks his sophomore season.
“[Shawn Long] is a tremendous talent,” Payton said to Basketball Insiders. “He can score inside and out. I expect big things from him next season. It’ll be a little bit tougher because there will be more double teams, but he’ll do well.”
Draft night 2014 was a surreal and motivating moment for Long, who shared a room with Payton in college and was his frequent workout partner. At times throughout his career, it had to be discouraging that his constant production of double-doubles went a little bit under the radar, but now the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel has never been brighter. The spotlight that was primarily occupied by Payton previously now belongs almost exclusively to Long. A lot of eyes are going to be on him, and if he can continue to put up double-doubles on a regular basis, he’ll be hearing his name called on draft night 2015 just like Payton did a year prior.
“To watch him do that that made me feel like I can do it, that’s why I’m out here trying to get better so I can get there,” Long said at adidas Nations. “I’ve been working on my post game, back-to-the-basket game and my conditioning. [I need to] carry my team in the way that me and Elfrid did last year. Taking all those things Coach put on my back and run with it.”
Initially there is going to be a bit of an adjustment period for the Ragin’ Cajuns as they get used to playing without one of the best point guards in college basketball over the last three years. However, with the increased visibility the program has received with Payton’s emergence, it has become more attractive to potential recruits. This year La. Lafayette head coach Bob Marlin has a strong five-man recruiting class coming in, a couple of key transfers and returners along with Long that give them great potential despite Payton’s departure.
“Of course we’re not going to be better at that position, that’s a lottery pick guard,” Long said. “But I feel like all around we’re better at every position than we were last year so we should be pretty good.”
Keeping the Ragin’ Cajuns over the 20-win plateau and making another NCAA Tournament appearance would go a long way in helping cement Long’s status as a first-round pick. At 6’9, 245 lbs. he possesses an intriguing amount of versatility and likens himself to former Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons All-Star forward Rasheed Wallace. And, with the path to the NBA paved by Payton, there’s nothing stopping him from giving the program their first set of back-to-back NBA draft picks.
NBA News and Notes
Here’s a look at the latest from around the league on Thursday:
- Paul George has officially decided to change his number from 24 to 13. League rules mandate that if you change your jersey number, you have to buy the remaining jerseys on the market place. George completed the transition by purchasing those jerseys, and giving them all to his former high school. George, who is projected to miss the entire 2014-15 season after a devastating leg injury suffered during Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas earlier this month, is said to be on the road to recovery after a successful surgery. He will meet with the media for the first time since the injury in the coming days.
- Another injury occurred during a Team USA event, as DeMarcus Cousins suffered a leg injury during practice Thursday. Luckily, his injury is not of the serious variety. He is undergoing an MRI, but USA chairman Jerry Colangelo did not paint it as serious. Cousins probably won’t practice the rest of the week, but should be back in action by the time Team USA’s pre-tournament training rolls through New York. Cousins is in a battle with Andre Drummond and Miles Plumlee for one of the final spots on the roster reserved for a true big man.
- Phoenix Suns point guard Isaiah Thomas underwent arthroscopic surgery on his wrist today, but is not expected to miss any part of the season or even training camp for that matter. Training camps don’t begin across the league until late September at the earliest, so Thomas has roughly six weeks to heal, which is standard for a procedure of this nature.