Marlin seeing some toughness from his 3-1 Ragin' Cajuns

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

Four games into its 2019-20 season, UL basketball coach Bob Marlin feels his team’s identity is starting to come into focus.

More clarity could come over the next week, when the 3-1 Ragin’ Cajuns visit Mountain West-member Wyoming on Thursday night followed by games Monday against Detroit Mercy of the Horizon League and Tuesday against Big West-member UC Irvine at the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas.

But what he sees is a club that, although often shorthanded because of injuries and frequently out-sized, shows some fight.

In a 73-61 home win over Horizon League-member Youngstown State last Friday night, Marlin — pleased with the Cajuns’ defense — said he learned “a little bit about our toughness.”

More:Marlin says new Cajuns signee Thomas 'has good vision'

Teammates Dou Gueye (left) and Cedric Russell (right) help Kobe Julien up during UL's season-opening win over Loyola of New Orleans.

Three Cajuns in particular have emerged as foundation pieces for 3-1 UL, which largely because of health matters and the early season suspension of senior guard P.J. Hardy has used just eight players in each of its last three games.

Against Youngstown State, in fact, five Cajuns — Cedric Russell, Mylik Wilson, Kobe Julien, Jalen Johnson and Dou Gueye — logged 32 or more minutes.

Wilson, a true freshman averaging 10.5 points per game and a team-high 3.3 assists, has shown athletic flashes, but still appears to be getting used to the speed of the college game, while Gueye, a juco-transfer averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds, plays with plenty of hustle if not always with perfection.

Related:Wilson's big dunk sparks Cajuns past Youngstown State

The three others — Russell, Julien and Johnson — have so far proven capable of being players Marlin can lean on night in and night out.

Russell, a junior point guard averaging 16.3 points per game, missed the second half of last week’s 98-65 loss at TCU after pulling a groin and straining a hip flexor.

But he sparked UL in the second half of its preceding win over McNeese, and after scoring 18 in the first half against the Horned Frogs, he returned to score 14 against Youngstown State.

Russell’s second-half play helped the Cajuns break open a tight one against Youngstown State, and his basket off a shot falling backside-first to the floor showed his toughness.

“I thought he fought through it in the game on Friday,” Marlin said with reference to Russell’s injuries, “and really did nice job defensively to start the second half.

“(He) showed some toughness, and I think he calmed our team down late too.”

More:UL's Russell has 'really taken ownership of the team'

Related:Russell leads shorthanded Cajuns past McNeese 85-80

Julien is averaging 14.3 points and went 38 minutes with a team-high 23 points against Youngstown State despite getting poked in the eye at TCU and having blurred vision for the two days that followed.

“He’s definitely getting better each and every night,” Marlin said of Julien, a redshirt freshman who missed all of last season recovering from major knee surgery.

“(He’s) becoming a little more aggressive and consistent.”

Then there is Johnson, UL’s leading scorer at 20.0 points per game and its leading rebounder at 7.5.

The transfer from St. Louis University had a 16-point, 10-board double-double against Youngstown State.

“I knew he could do that,” Marlin said of Johnson’s scoring. “Not a surprise there.

“He can shoot the basketball. He’s got a good midrange game. He can score in the post. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter.

“We need to get him some more 3-point shots, probably, at certain times, and we’ll pull him away from the basket,” Marlin added. “We play him in the middle of our spread offense the majority of the time, but he’s not an inside player. He’s a faceup forward.”

Like Julien, Johnson had to shake off some rust after also sitting out last season — in his case because of NCAA transfer rules.

“I think he’s battled it well,” Marlin said, “and I’ve been really pleased with his scoring, and just hopes he remains consistent.”

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Marlin likes new UL signee's speed, vision

The UL basketball team this week announced the signing of Michael Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound point who becomes the Ragin’ Cajuns first member of its 2020-21 class.

A two-time Class 1A All-State performer from Lake Charles’ Hamilton Christian School, Thomas has averaged 15.5 points, 7.2 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game so far in his high school career.

UL coach Bob Marlin said Thomas reminds him of former UL guard Kasey Shepherd, who plays for the Ukranian club BC Kyiv, “a little bit,” and current Cajuns freshman guard Mylik Wilson “in a sense.”

“He really can get up and down the floor,” Marlin said.

“(He) has good vision. Really good 2-point shooter off the bounce, which is hard to teach – something that Mylik Wilson does for us right now.

“We just like his speed,” Marlin added, “and the way he goes about things.”

As a junior, Thomas averaged 16.9 points and led HCS to the Class 1A state-title game.

He enters his senior season as a two-time District 4-1A and southwest Louisiana MVP while being named the District 4-1A Freshman of the Year in 2016.

Thomas originally committed to the Cajuns last February.


UL (3-1) at Wyoming (2-3)

WHEN: 8 p.m. (central) Thursday

WHERE: Arena-Auditorium (11,612); Laramie, Wyoming

TV: Mountain West Network


   UL LEADERS: Jalen Johnson (20.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg), Cedric Russell (16.3 ppg), Kobe Julien (14.2 ppg), Mylik Wilson (10.5 ppg, 3.3 apg), Dou Gueye (6.0 rpg)

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