Lofton eager for encore

New Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl's biggest "get" of the 2005 recruiting season may prove to be a player who already was on the Vol roster.

When Buzz Peterson was relieved of his duties last March, UT players and fans alike waited anxiously to see who his successor would be. No one was more anxious than Chris Lofton, who began receiving feelers from rival schools before Peterson had finished cleaning out his office. The outside interest was understandable.

Lofton, a sharp-shooting 6-foot-2 guard, broke the SEC record for 3-point baskets by a freshman in 2004-05 with 93. He broke Allan Houston's school record by averaging three 3-pointers per game. He hit 48.1 percent from the floor and 46.5 percent from beyond the arc, ranking fourth nationally in the latter. He averaged 13.2 points per game. In the process, he earned first-team Freshman All-SEC recognition and third-team Freshman All-America honors.

The fear he struck in the hearts of opponents during the season was nothing, however, compared to the fear he struck in the hearts of Vol fans after the season. They were scared he might take his imposing resume' and transfer to a school with a more stable and successful program. Once he met Pearl, though, Lofton's thoughts of leaving evaporated.

"It took about five minutes," he said recently. "He brought a winning attitude, and that's something I wanted to hear. I liked it."

Pearl also brought a style of basketball much like the up-tempo system Lofton thrived in back at Mason County High in Maysville, Ky.

"It's real similar; it's up and down the floor constantly," Lofton said. "That's what I've been playing all my life, and it's something I like."

He was not particularly fond of the deliberate half-court attack Tennessee played a year ago.

"Last year was a big adjustment," he recalled. "It was a BIG adjustment, learning to play a half-court offense and being patient."

In addition to a winning attitude and a quicker pace, Pearl has brought a passion for the game that was missing at Tennessee last season. The new coach has tremendous intensity, and he demands the same of his players.

"We're buying into it," Lofton said. "We've got high hopes for this year. The big difference this year is the intensity and excitement. Everybody's excited to play."

One of Tennessee's newcomers this fall is Anthony Passley, a 6-5 guard from Indianapolis who must sit out the 2005-06 season because he attended one summer school class at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lofton faced Passley when both were high schoolers and came away impressed.

"I liked his game back then," Lofton said.

When a reporter jokingly asked: "So, you don't like his game now?" Lofton grinned broadly and shot back: "Oh, yeah. But he's improved a lot since then."

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