Lofton confirms plan to return

University of Tennessee junior guard Chris Lofton confirmed what was already known – he will not be leaving for the National Basketball Association. But he will assume a different role this season.

Lofton said the NBA advisory board directed by Stu Jackson projected that he would be a mid-second round draft pick. Had he been projected as a top-20 pick, he would have had a difficult choice. If he had declared, he would have done so without an agent so he could have returned to Tennessee if he didn't like his outlook.

Instead, the SEC Player of the Year will work on his game this summer and next season to become a better ball-handler and passer. He's already gone from a stationery 3-pointer shooter to one of the league's best at driving to the basket and finishing.

``Coming back for my senior year will give me the opportunity to work on my game so I can become a better player,'' Lofton said. ``There are also a lot of things that we can accomplish here as a team.''

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said he's been told by NBA officials that this is one of the deeper drafts and with each underclassmen declaring for the NBA, Lofton's stock could get knocked down a notch.

``Chris has made tremendous progress with his game in each of the last two years,'' Pearl said. ``There is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to work hard to accomplish his goals.''

Lofton said he wasn't surprised to be in the position of staying in school or going pro even though he was rejected out of high school by Kentucky, Louisville and Cincinnati.

``I had confidence in myself in high school,'' Lofton said.

Pearl said he's had a half dozen players evaluate their draft status at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee. He said Lofton is the only one who was projected to be taken.

Pearl said the NBA provides five suggestions: The player will be a lottery pick or go high in the first round, he will be a first- or high-second-round pick, he will likely be a second-round pick, he has a chance to be drafted or he won't be drafted.

Pearl said C.J. Watson got an evaluation before his senior year and the projection was that he wouldn't be selected.

Tennessee associate head coach Tony Jones has no doubt Lofton will be a good NBA player, agreeing that if Steve Kerr and John Paxson can play in the pros, so can Lofton.

``If you can do something great, you can play in the NBA,'' Jones said, noting that Dennis Rodman made a career out of being a terrific rebounder and Manute Bol played a long time because he could block shots.

Pearl said Lofton's expanded role could affect backup point guard Jordan Howell more than point guard Ramar Smith.

``We'll try to give Chris those 10 minutes (Howell got as a backup point) or challenge Ramar (at the point),'' Pearl said. ``And we'll ask Howell to shoot the ball and be more Lee Humphrey like. Jordan actually prefers the two.''

Considering the experiments Pearl wants to try, he's glad the Vols are going on an overseas trip in August to work on a variety of combinations.

Meanwhile, Lofton has been invited to the week-long USA basketball tryouts in Philadelphia starting July 12. The team would play in the Pan Am Games July 25-29 and those Games would not conflict with UT's overseas trip.

The USA coach is Jay Wright of Villanova.

Pearl said that since a number of international teams like to play zone, having Lofton on the team would be a ``pretty good idea.''

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