Lofton looks to lead

Given that he was SEC Player of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American in 2006-07, Tennessee's star basketball player appeared to be at the top of his game last winter.

That may not be the case, however. Chris Lofton could be even better in 2007-08. Head coach Bruce Pearl thinks Vol fans will note some differences tonight, when the Vols host California-Pennsylvania at 7:30 in their exhibition opener at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I have seen Chris Lofton's game improve in two ways," Pearl said recently. "First, he has elevated it defensively. He is now conscious of a defensive breakdown, whereas before it would bother him but he would get right back on the offensive end. He understands what this team needs to do (defensively) to take another step."

In addition to upgrading his defensive skills, Lofton is working hard to improve his leadership skills. He will never be a vocal leader but he is trying to exert a positive influence on his teammates in other ways.

"I see Chris being more involved with the team and the team-building and leadership – not so much verbally, but he's been in my office," Pearl said. "He's asked more questions. He's offered to help the other guys. He took a more active role in recruiting than he ever has. He has taken over more."

Soon to begin his fourth year as a starter, Lofton clearly wants to go out with a bang. To ensure that, he is trying to put his thumb print on this squad.

"This is his team," Pearl said. "I always turn it over to the seniors – JaJuan Smith, Jordan Howell and Chris Lofton. This is THEIR team.... You always remember your last year, and that is what I am trying to impress upon those three seniors."

Following tonight's game, Tennessee hosts another 7:30 exhibition contest Monday night against Lincoln Memorial. The Vols open for real Nov. 9, hosting Temple.

COACHES' ALL-SEC: Lofton was a unanimous selection to the first-team preseason All-SEC team, as selected by league coaches. Vol teammates JaJuan Smith and Tyler Smith were second-team picks.

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