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Former Basketball: Cajun pride follows Elfrid Payton to pros

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Oct. 29, 2014


Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) speaks with Mike Murphy and Jenny Marlin after a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. (Photo: Tyler Kaufman, Special to the Advertiser)

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He was making his NBA debut, just across the Mississippi River from his hometown of Gretna, wearing the uniform of the visiting Orlando Magic.


Not from former University of Louisiana at Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton. Not in the least.

"No nerves," Payton said afterward.

"It was kind of surprising," he added, "but I wasn’t as nervous (as anticipated) when the ball went up, and I felt comfortable out there."

Little wonder.

Before the Magic lost their 2014-15 season-opener 101-84 to the New Orleans Pelicans in front of an announced 17,097 at Smoothie King Center, Payton summed up his approach in four simple words.

"It’s just another game," said Payton, a John Ehret High product who had seven assists, five rebounds and four points on 2-for-8 shooting his first 31 regular-season minutes.

Read more: Payton is still cool, calm, collected

Really, though, it was more than merely another outing in an 82-game NBA season.

Payton realized that while running out for pregame introductions.

"It was cool. It was nice to hear my name," he said. "I heard a lot of people screaming and things like that. (But) it would have been better if we had won."

Payton support really was plentiful.

When a fan wearing a blue Magic jersey appeared on the arena’s video scoreboard, he initially was booed by Pelican backers — then cheered by the many Ragin’ Cajuns fans in attendance when he turned around and showed off Payton’s No. 4.

"It means a lot," Payton said of those who drove from Lafayette, including several ex-teammates, Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, UL athletic director Scott Farmer and what Marlin called "a large contingent" of Cajun fans. "The support is great, and I’m forever grateful. I can’t wait until I can return the favor."

Marlin watched from a chair atop Smoothie King’s lower level.

"It’s an awesome experience," he said of seeing the No. 10 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft play. "It’s exciting.

"It’s a little bit different than the Sun Belt (Conference)," Marlin added at halftime. "The guys are a little bit bigger inside. I think he’s learned that."

Also on hand was longtime Cajuns play-by-play announcer Jay Walker, who had one of the house’s best seats.

"This is the first time I’ve ever seen an NBA game where somebody I knew was playing," Walker said. "When they first came out to warm up, and I saw him, I said, ‘Oh, this is very cool.’

"The fact (Payton) was in the starting lineup, and I’m sitting like seven rows behind the bench, I’m, like, really excited. Extra cool."

Current Cajuns, too, were happy to see their ex-teammate take his game to the next level.

Payton could have returned to UL for his senior season, but — feeling NBA-ready — he turned pro early and now is pulling down about $2.4 million in annual salary.

"It’s a blessing for him and his family," said shooting guard Xavian Rimmer, who came to New Orleans. "I’m just glad he made it. It’s the work he put in, and the effort he put in, that’s led to seeing him on the court in the NBA."

"I’m proud of Elfrid," added big man Shawn Long, who stayed in Lafayette but watched on TV. "When he decided to declare himself, of course I would have liked for him to stay. But, you know, he’s my friend and my brother before anything, so it was just nice to see him do the best thing for him."