With the start of the 2013-14 season just 10 days away, Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long earned additional preseason accolades as both were named to the Sun Belt Conference Preseason team. In addition, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns were picked to finish in a fourth place tie with league newcomer Georgia State when the Sun Belt released the results of its annual preseason coaches poll on Wednesday.
Payton, a 6-2, 180-pound junior guard from Gretna, La., is coming off of a breakout year, averaging a team-best 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game. He finished the year leading the Sun Belt in both steals and assists, ranking 12th nationally in steals and 38th in assists. He was also fourth in the league in scoring.
A starter in all 33 games, Payton ranks third in school history with 80 steals last year while his 181 assists were fourth-best. With two full seasons to play, he already ranks 18th all-time with 117 steals and 278 assists.
Over the summer, Payton earned a starting spot on the USA Basketball squad that won the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic.
"Elfrid has continued to make progress month-by-month over the last year," Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said. "At this time last year, he wasn't on any of the three preseason teams but he went on to be a unanimous first team pick. We are excited about his progress and are anxious to see how his experiences over the summer will help the team this year."
Long, a 6-9, 243-pound forward from Morgan City, La., was the dominant big man inside last year for the Cajuns, averaging 15.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He ranked 12th nationally and second in the Sun Belt in rebounding and was fourth in the league and 60th in the nation in blocked shots.
Long ranked sixth in the nation with 18 double-doubles and has scored 20 points or more in a game nine times. He led all freshmen in the nation in rebounding and was ninth among freshmen in both scoring and blocks.
"Shawn has quietly gone about improving himself over the summer and I am impressed with the results. He has changed his body, gotten stronger and leaner, which has helped him to improve his mobility," Marlin said.
Payton and Long were joined on the All-Sun Belt first team by South Alabama's Augustin Rubit, the preseason player of the year, along with Georgia State's R.J. Hunter and WKU's T.J. Price.
If the preseason coaches poll is an indication, then the race for the 2014 Sun Belt title should be a tough one as just 18 points separated the top five spots, including just five points between second and fifth place.
WKU, which won the Sun Belt Tournament in each of the past two years, received five of the 10 first place votes and 91 points total to get the preseason nod.
South Alabama was second with 78 points, including two first place votes while Arkansas State was tabbed third with 74 points, one point ahead of both Louisiana (1 first place vote) and Georgia State (2), who each garnered 73 votes.
Rounding out the bottom five are UALR (48 points) in sixth, league newcomers UT Arlington (36) and Texas State (34) in seventh and eighth, Troy (26) in ninth and ULM (17) in 10th.
"Its good to see that the league coaches recognize all of the positive things that are taking place within the program. But the old adage that it doesn't matter where you are picked, it is where you finish that's important applies," Marlin said.
"Since last season, we've improved our roster and experience and have two players who have really stepped up their game. If the rest of the squad plays the way that they are capable of, then we'll have a chance to be among the leaders."
Louisiana plays William Carey in an exhibition game on Monday (Nov. 4) before opening the season against Louisiana College on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 2:00 p.m. in the Cajundome.