The new point guard, Johnny Collins, is such a steadying influence that he's still in the lineup despite shooting only 38.6%. A transfer from Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif. on a team that needs steadying, Collins came to Southwestern Louisiana partly because of sophomore Forward Graylin Warner; they were teammates at Booker T Washington High in New Orleans. Warner didn't have a particularly good tournament, with 25 points and six rebounds, but he's averaging 14.8 points per game as one of America's skinniest (6'8", 170 pounds to be generous) forwards. Paschal once tried to put Warner on a weight program, but when Warner began to lose weight, Paschal took him off it "before he disappeared." The 6'9", 221-pound Gay is a power center, who shoots only seven times a game and averages about eight rebounds.
But despite all this talent, the most important reason for the Cajuns' success has been Brown, an unheralded sophomore power forward. Though he shot poorly (5-of-15) in the tournament, he was still at 53% for the season and was leading the team in rebounds. He had 14 against Fresno State. Fate helped bring Brown to Southwestern Louisiana. On his recruiting visit, he watched as "that guy with the same first name as mine hit a shot at the buzzer." That was Dion Rainey, whose last-second basket beat the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the NIT two years ago.
The Cajuns have the classic sixth man who gets things going offensively in sophomore Alonza Allen, Florida's top scholastic prospect two years ago. The 6'6" Allen has been used mainly at guard, but as the team's best leaper and an excellent offensive rebounder, he plays up front, too. And Southwestern Louisiana even has the obligatory team flake in Substitute Center Bruce Pringle, nicknamed The Vanilla Gorilla because of his size (6'10", 235) and color. He and Guard John Perret are the only two whites on the roster. "Actually, to the guys on this team I'm not considered white," says Pringle, who hails from Ontario. "We say we have all blacks, except for one white and one Canadian."
If Pringle is like many of Southwest Louisiana's students, he'll stick around town after graduation, adding a spoonful of Canadian influence to the blend of French, Cajun and black culture that makes Lafayette unusual. Although the city is relatively small, its wealth and the existence of Southwestern Louisiana, perhaps the fastest-growing university in Louisiana, give it a big-city feel.
There's been no friction between the predominantly black basketball team and the predominantly white Lafayette townspeople. Indeed, most of the Cajun basketball heroes—Lamar, Toney, Fred Saunders and, now, Turner—have been black, and the rabid white fans at Black-ham Coliseum often seem contemptuous of "these white boys" who have no business playing on the same floor with their team.
"I'd never leave this place," says Lamar, who now works for a filtration company and does color commentary on Southwestern Louisiana's basketball network. "The people are friendly and hardworking. And there's good food and good parties. Everything you could ever want is right here."
Including a Top 20 basketball team.