Lofton hopeful but doubtful

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has learned to expect just about anything from Chris Lofton – 25-foot jump shots that barely ripple the net … nifty drives that boggle the mind … 30-point efforts against top-notch foes … uncanny accuracy from the foul line.

There is one thing Pearl is not expecting from Chris Lofton, however: That would be an honest assessment of his health status for Sunday's game at Kentucky.

Because he grew up in Maysville, Ky., Lofton wants very badly to play against the home-state Big Blue. He wants it so badly, in fact, that Pearl believes he would lie about the injured right ankle that already caused him to miss the second half of last Saturday's game with South Carolina and all of Wednesday night's game at Ole Miss.

Pearl routinely puts the ball in Lofton's hands at crunch time. The coach will NOT put this decision in Lofton's hands.

"When it comes to things like that, the doctors are going to tell me … the trainer's going to tell me," Pearl said. "They're going to have to be careful with Chris because Chris is going to say whatever he needs to say to get out there. We have to understand that."

Lofton did not participate in today's practice but showed up near the end of it. He walked without a limp, did some stretching exercises, then met with the media regarding his tender ankle. Not surprisingly, his comments were optimistic.

"Each day it gets better," he said. "Every day I can do something better than I did the day before. Hopefully, tomorrow I'll come in and have something else to cheer about."

When asked if he thinks Lofton might wake up Sunday morning ready to play, Pearl replied: "I doubt it. I really doubt it. But you just don't know. He's got a lot less pain today than he did yesterday, so they're working through it."

Lofton said he has shot some free throws now that he's able to put weight on the injured ankle. He has not attempted any jump shots to date but promised that "we'll get there."

The 6-2 junior admitted it was "tough" watching his teammates lose last night at Oxford, "especially knowing I had street clothes on and I couldn't help ‘em."

Although he hinted that he will not sugar-coat the pain in his ankle in order to get back on the floor quicker, Lofton's eagerness to rejoin the team is painfully obvious.

"They're a great team without me," he said. "But, hopefully, I can get back and try to contribute right away."

A preseason All-American, Lofton is the kind of player who can win a game almost single-handedly some nights. Still, Pearl insists he will take every precaution to ensure that Lofton does not come back too quickly, thereby risking further injury that might sideline him for the remainder of the season.

"We're not going to rush it," the coach said. "If he can't go out there (on the practice floor) and do some things – and not have a reaction to them – it's just not worth it."

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