Former Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball standout Elfrid Payton became the third player in school history to be chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft when he was selected on Thursday as the 10th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Payton, a Gretna native and former John Ehret High product, was later traded to the Orlando Magic for Croatian forward Dario Saric, who was picked at No. 12. Payton became the 20th player in school history to be selected in the NBA Draft and the third by the Sixers joining Hall of Famers Dean Church (10th round, 1965) — the first Ragin’ Cajuns draft selection — and two-time NBA All-Star Andrew Toney (8th overall pick, Philadelphia, 1980).
“I was excited, Orlando was one of the places that I would have like to have gone to,” Payton said, shortly after being traded. “I love the front office ... it’s a good fit. My style of play is that I can get up and down the floor, but I can also run my team in the halfcourt set. I can get after it defensively which will lead to offense.
“I think the game has kind of changed in putting just the best players on the floor. I feel like I can play multiple positions. I’m looking forward to it.”
Payton joined Toney and Kevin Brooks (18th, Denver, 1991) as first-round selections in Ragin’ Cajuns history and was the first Sun Belt Conference Player picked since Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee (22nd, Orlando) in 2008.
“It’s been fascinating to watch his climb,” head coach Bob Marlin said. “Elfrid has met every challenge that has been presented to him in his basketball career. He won a gold medal last year with Team USA and led us to the NCAA Championships. To watch him grow by leaps and bounds has been phenomenal to watch.”
During a spectacular three-year career with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Payton finished 16th in school history in scoring (1,425 points) while grabbing 508 rebounds with 486 assists (fifth on the all-time list) and a school-record 197 steals. His 644 career free throw attempts were fourth in school history, trailing Bo Lamar (802, 1969-73), Tim Thompson (722, 1957-61) and Toney (690, 1976-80).
“The draft is a fluid thing and Elfrid is someone going into the draft who we had targeted,” Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan said. “Again, I’m going to sing a familiar tune (as with Aaron Gordon). We loved his competitiveness and his toughness. We love his desire to want to play defense and compete at that end of the floor. As the draft started to fall and shake out, we felt it was worth it to go and acquire him with some of the assets that we have.”
Payton averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game in helping the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 23-12 record and their first berth to the NCAA Championships since 2005. Payton scored in double figures in 32 of 35 games played, including 14 games with 20 or more points and four 30-point performances. On the season, Payton attempted a school-record 302 free throws, breaking the previous mark of 273 set by Dean Church in 1964-65.
He was honored earlier this year as the 2014 Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the Lou Henson All-America Team. Payton earned first-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors, where he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, and the named the 2014 College Basketball Player of the Year by both the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA) and the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches (LABC).
Payton led the Sun Belt Conference in steals for the second consecutive year, recording 80 and finishing with a school-record total to 197. He finished second on the team in rebounds (6.0) and was part of a defensive unit that led the Sun Belt Conference in rebounding margin and was second in steals.
He was one of 10 Division I players during the season to record a triple-double when he scored 34 points, with 11 rebounds and 11 assists at ULM. Payton scored 31 points in games against Houston and Western Kentucky and 32 against Oakland while posting six double-doubles, including games at Louisiana Tech and defending national champion Louisville.
Payton spent last summer as the starting point guard for Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Championship, helping the team to the gold medal. Payton took part in a seven-game goodwill tour of China and the Far East with Reach USA, where he led the team in scoring in seven games.