Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
We hedged a bit by putting two players from one team in this slot, but how often does a team from the Sun Belt Conference have two NBA prospects?
Forward Shawn Long, a 6'9" sophomore, has put up amazing numbers for Louisiana-Lafayette this season. He leads the team in both scoring, at 21.2 points per game, and rebounding, with 11.3 boards a game. He also averages 2.7 blocks while hitting 56.6 percent of his shots. He's doing all that despite averaging less than 29 minutes a game.
He poured in 25 points in a loss to Louisville, and had 30 points on 12-of-12 shooting from the field in a blowout of Centenary.
It's easy to see why NBADraft.net projects him to be taken early in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft.
The most remarkable aspect of all this is that Long probably is not the best player on the team. That honor goes to Ragin' Cajuns guard Elfrid Payton, a 6'3" junior averaging 19.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals.
He looks like a pro. NBADraft.net projects him as a first-round NBA pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and DraftExpress.com expects him to be taken in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft. At this point NBADraft.net is predicting Payton will be drafted ahead of players such as Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, Syracuse's C.J. Fair and Louisville's Russ Smith.
Payton was a starter on the USA Under-19 team that won a gold medal at the U19 World Championship in Prague, over the summer. As noted in a Sporting News article, Payton's defense and ability to penetrate into the lane impressed the U.S. coaches, who knew little about Payton before the tryouts. Marcus Smart was the other starting guard for the American team, which featured Aaron Gordon and Jahlil Okafor coming off the bench.
Louisiana-Lafayette does not play a prominent basketball team the rest of the season, so you may not hear much about Long or Payton unless the Ragin' Cajuns win the conference title and get to the NCAA tournament. If they do make it, which is a distinct possibility, Long and Payton could steal the show.