Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajuns Preview

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[b]Team preview: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

Blue Ribbon Yearbook

COACH AND PROGRAM

Veteran Louisiana-Lafayette assistant Robert Lee wasn’t happy last spring when Oklahoma State assistant Glynn Cyprien was announced as the successor to San Francisco-bound Jessie Evans.

But as it turned out, the fact Cyprien got the job rather than Mississippi State assistant Robert Kirby or Louisiana State assistant Butch Pierre – who along with Lee were the other finalists – was the best thing for Lee. That’s because Cyprien was fired in mid-July, barely 10 weeks on the job, when it was learned he didn’t have the bachelor’s degree from Texas-San Antonio that was listed on his resume. And while Lee was still coming to grips with Cyprien’s sudden departure, he was offered the job.

A Nicholls State alumnus who went 109-29 at Opelousas High in the early 1990s, Lee was an assistant at Lafayette seven years under Evans and one year under Marty Fletcher before that.

Now, he inherits plenty of personnel left over from an NCAA Tournament team.
Being the second choice was awkward. So was seeing the hardship of Cyprien, who had already hired Lee to remain on the staff.

The whirlwind off-season reminded Lee of perhaps the most important thing he learned from Evans.

“He always tried to stay on an even keel through the ups and downs,” Lee said. “He never got too high with a victory or too low with a defeat.”

Lee and Louisiana-Lafayette might have been a marriage of convenience, but it’s not likely to earn him an extended honeymoon. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won at least 20 games four of the last five seasons, have won the Sun Belt West Division three years running and made two NCAA Tournament trips under Evans. And if they had shot even half as well from outside as they did during the regular season, Evans’ swan song might’ve included a first-round upset of third-seeded North Carolina State.

“It was frustrating because offensively that was probably the worst we played all year,” Lee said of that game with the Wolfpack.

The cold shooting might have been a preview of things to come. While Lafayette should be every bit as talented this year, it might have a deficiency teams can exploit.

My biggest concern is this team being able to make outside shots,” Lee said.

With good reason. The Cajuns lost 200 of their 237 three-point field goals with the departures of Antoine Landry, Brad Boyd and Laurie Bridges.

PLAYERS

Lee does have two returning starters in 6-11 senior Chris Cameron (6.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and 6-6 senior Brian Hamilton (11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg). Orien Greene (10.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), a 6-4 senior who played two years at Florida, and 6-4 junior Dwayne Mitchell (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), who started his career at Auburn, are returning regulars in the backcourt.

Greene didn’t play until January because of academics, and offered mixed results at best in the wake of high expectations. Greene, Florida’s Mr. Basketball in 2000 after leading Gainesville to a second straight state championship, attempted only 32 free throws despite playing 26 minutes per game in 18 games last season.

Greene does represent 30 of the 37 returning treys. He shot 36 percent behind the arc last year. Greene will also likely do the majority of the play making.

“We expect a lot more from Orien Greene this season,” Lee said. “I expect we’ll see that player who was the player of the year in Florida. I think his early academic troubles last year kind of hindered him.”

Greene, whose 61 steals as a sophomore were the third most ever by a Gator, did average 2.3 steals last year. He was one of four Ragin’ Cajuns with at least 40. Hamilton and Mitchell were the two others who are returning.

“Brian Hamilton loves to do the dirty work, and he does a great job,” Lee said. “He takes it really personal trying to stop the other guys’ best offensive player. And he led our team in taking charges and rebounding.”

Cameron, a native of Melbourne, Australia, started all 29 games last season and averaged 18.1 minutes. He shot a solid .497 from the field and .727 from the free-throw line and was third on the team with 12 blocked shots.

Lafayette has a good mixture of athleticism and length in players like Mitchell, Hamilton and Greene, and opponents’ passing lanes will be even more congested with the arrival of 6-6 junior Tiras Wade (16.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg in 2002-03).

The long-armed transfer from East Tennessee State was the No. 1 option and leading scorer on a team two years ago that went to the NCAA Tournament two months after his dismissal. Wade’s suspension was indefinite and specific reasons unclear, but former ETSU coach Ed DeChellis said he wanted Wade to take counseling for anger management.

Wade shot 46 percent from three-point range and made 81 percent of his free throws as a sophomore at ETSU. He spent countless hours shooting daily while hoping to return to the program. His gym-rat ways continued during his transfer season in Lafayette.

“You really had to just about kick him out of the gym,” Lee said. “We’re really expecting big things from Tiras. His shot is a little unorthodox, but he’s consistently made shots.”

Another newcomer who could provide outside scoring is 6-2 freshman Derek Gray (27.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.1 apg), who led nearby Jeanerette High School to a state runner-up finish and chose the home school over such schools as LSU and Mississippi. Gray scored 51 points in a game as a junior and scored 44 for his Class 2A Tigers in a game against an eventual 5A state champion as a senior. Many of his points came from outside, often via NBA-range three-pointers.

Another freshman, 6-3 Cletis Fobbs (15.0 ppg, 5.0 apg), could help at point guard, as could 6-2 juco transfer Anthony Rhodman (15 ppg, 5 apg). Fobbs, from W.T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Fla., spent the 2003-04 season as a postgraduate at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Mass. As a high school senior, Fobbs averaged 15 points, five rebounds and five assists on a Dwyer team that finished 29-3 and was state ranked. He’s a good athlete and willing defender.
Last season, Rhodman averaged 15 points, five assists and three steals for Louisburg (N.C.) College.

Two transfers in the frontcourt who will be counted on are 6-7 forward Spencer Ford and 6-8, 235-pound junior Berry Jordan. Ford can play the four spot or step outside while Jordan is a back-to-the-basket player.

Last season, Ford, a native of Baton Rouge, La., averaged 13.0 points and 8.6 rebounds for Dixie State (Utah) College. He originally signed with Louisiana-Lafayette out of Scotlandville High School, where he was also the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) All-State MVP.

Jordan originally signed with Arkansas out of high school. Last season, he averaged 8.1 points and 10.5 rebounds for Kilgore (Texas) Junior College en route to Region XIV second team All-Conference honors.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: A
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: B

Lee might feel like the Tyrone Willingham of hoops. George O’Leary’s resume gaffe at Notre Dame certainly rushed to memory during Cyprien’s ordeal. But the instant success of former Michigan coach Steve Fisher might better frame Lee’s victory by default. Fisher had a lot of talent right away, and come to think of it, the Fab Five wasn’t drowning in three-point shooters either.

Obviously, the Cajuns won’t be favored to make a Final Four run like the Fab Five did, but a lot of teams that will be would just as soon not have to go through the Cajuns if Lee gets his rookie-season wish.

“I don’t see any added pressure in our fans’ expectations to win,” Lee said. “We expect to win too. We won’t be satisfied with anything less than returning to the NCAA Tournament.” [/b]

Extremely high grades for the defending SunBelt champs.

But that bold faced quote begs for us to play some type of zone against them. The preview reads like they are all slashers and big men, and not shooters.

Wow, I didn’t realize these guys would be a threat. Those grades are really high, at least they are lacking the outside shot. Bobby Lutz’s defense has been known to give up one or two open three’s a game…

We owe them a smack in the face. That loss they haned us a couple of years ago sucked big time.

Why are the guards rated so high if they can’t hit a three?

It looks as if you could pack it in and make them beat you from the outside.

They play Georgia State tonight. Apparently their 3 guards were all highly recruited. They are all three transfers from other programs Auburn, Florida and East Tenn. State.

I wonder if Jake Delhomme will make an appearance.

[b]But as it turned out, the fact Cyprien got the job rather than Mississippi State assistant Robert Kirby or Louisiana State assistant Butch Pierre -- who along with Lee were the other finalists -- was the best thing for Lee.[/b]

Butch Pierre was another one of those assistants that got away from the program under Melvin Watkins, but had the opportunity to return to his home area. Now the Associate Head Coach at LSU, it’s hard to believe he’s been gone 7 years.

[i]Originally posted by CPA_Niner[/i]@Nov 29 2004, 04:52 PM [b] I wonder if Jake Delhomme will make an appearance. [/b]
I was wondering the same thing. I wouldn't be surprised to see him there.

They just lost to Georgia State in the no-win RPI game of the week for us…

:bump for gameday:

[i]Originally posted by CPA_Niner[/i]@Nov 29 2004, 03:52 PM [b] I wonder if Jake Delhomme will make an appearance. [/b]
I wonder if Kelvin Price will be in the house. KP spent 2 years at ULL (then Southwestern Louisiana) before transferring to UNCC.

GO NINERS!!!

I just re-read that. Wow, they’ve got lots of talent. Orien Green was a top high schooler and played at Florida. We almost signed the JUCO kid, Spencer Ford who was at Grier’s JUCO last year. One of their guards played with Goldwire at Dwyer. Big australian. Sounds familiar.

Cle-Tis!, Cle-Tis!, Cle-Tis!

Cletis Fobbs sounds like a character out of a Mark Twain novel.

…or a moonshiner out of Booger Holler’

Did Delhomme go to La. Lafayette?

[i]Originally posted by Sideshow[/i]@Dec 1 2004, 08:03 PM [b] Did Delhomme go to La. Lafayette? [/b]
yes