Lofton battled cancer

Tennessee basketball player Chris Lofton was battling more than gimmick defenses last season. He was battling testicular cancer, as well.

Lofton learned of the illness in March of 2007 but kept it a secret from the media and even his own teammates throughout the 2007-08 season. Now that the story finally has broken, Lofton released a statement through the UT sports information department:

"I would like to thank everyone for respecting my privacy during the past year and I hope that they continue to do so. This has been a very difficult time for me and my family but it has brought us closer together. I have been very blessed that we were able to catch everything early so that now I am OK."

According to published reports, Lofton underwent surgery and four weeks of radiation therapy during the offseason but managed to keep this a secret from his teammates, as well.

"There was a point this past season that I was asked about Chris Lofton's health almost every day," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said in another statement released by the sports information office. "While knowing all of the underlying issues, the Lofton family requested that we respect their privacy as a part of the HIPPA laws regarding the release of medical information.

"Recently Chris and his family chose to talk about some of the medical issues. Chris Lofton is one of the toughest players I have ever been around. Not once did he make an issue of what he has gone through. Never once did he complain."

A preseason All-American heading into 2007-08, Lofton struggled mightily in November. He went 1 for 8 from the field in Game 1 vs. Temple, 2 for 7 in Game 2 vs. Arkansas-Monticello and 3 of 13 in Game 3 vs. Prairie View A&M.

"I think that his health issues were a factor in his play early this past season," Pearl said.

Lofton never seemed quite as quick or as sharp during his senior year as he was as a junior. His numbers reflect as much.

After averaging an SEC-best 20.8 points per game as a junior, he slipped to 15.5 as a senior. His field-goal percentage dropped from 47.9 to 40.6 and his 3-point percentage from 41.9 to 39.2.

Even with his body in a weakened condition, however, Lofton kept working to help his team and keep his secret. He actually finished his senior year with more rebounds, more assists, more steals and fewer turnovers than he compiled as a junior.

"He physically and mentally overcame all of the challenges associated with battling cancer and serves as a tremendous role model to all of us," Pearl said. "Even with everything he has gone through, he will go down in history as one of the best basketball players at the University of Tennessee.

"One day his jersey will hang in the rafters alongside some of the greats like Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. It was an honor, privilege and joy to coach number five."

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