Another hurdle for Lofton

For a guy who is considered just mildly athletic, one former Tennessee Vol certainly is asked to clear a lot of hurdles.

The latest one arrived earlier this week, when Chris Lofton learned that he has not been invited to attend the National Basketball Association pre-draft camp that runs Tuesday through Thursday in Orlando.

Lofton seems to be an ideal candidate for the camp since pro scouts have so many questions about his size (6-1), his athleticism (modest) and his health (a recent bout with cancer). Competing against bigger, quicker athletes would provide an opportunity for him to answer those questions.

The ex-Vol won't get that opportunity, however, forcing him to face yet another hurdle in a career that seems to feature more than its share of imposing obstacles. If he is to pique the interest of NBA teams, he'll have to do so in individual workouts between now and the June 26 draft.

Given how Lofton's career has gone thus far, perhaps it's fitting that he would have to make the NBA the hard way. Nothing seems to come easily for him.

Despite putting up sensational numbers as a 3-point shooter in Maysville, Ky., Lofton was snubbed by Louisville and the University of Kentucky coming out of Mason County High School. Ultimately, he was signed as a spring afterthought by Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson in 2004.

Despite his shortcomings in terms of size, athleticism and experience, Lofton started all 31 games as a freshman for the 2004-05 Vols. He averaged 13.2 points per contest and shot a sizzling 46.5 percent from 3-point range. When Peterson was fired at the conclusion of a 14-17 season, however, Lofton considered transferring.

The hiring of Bruce Pearl as Peterson's successor created another hurdle for Lofton. Pearl's system – built around transition offense and fullcourt defense – is best suited to lanky speedsters, not 6-1 guys with more savvy than speed.

Even so, Lofton managed to thrive in Pearl's scheme, averaging 17.2 points per game as a sophomore in 2005-06 and an SEC-best 20.8 ppg as a junior in 2006-07. Incredibly, the guy who couldn't earn a scholarship from Kentucky or Louisville had earned recognition as SEC Player of the Year and a second-team All-American.

His Cinderella story would feature still more drama, however. Diagnosed with testicular cancer in March of 2007, he underwent surgery and four weeks of radiation treatments prior to his senior season. Typical of his quiet nature, Lofton kept the disease a secret from everyone but his coaches, even as his on-court performances prompted media and fans alike to ask, "What's wrong with Chris Lofton?"

As his health improved, so did Lofton's on-court production. His last six regular-season games as a Vol included a 21-point effort at Florida, a 28-point game against South Carolina and a 25-point outing against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.

He struggled mightily in NCAA Tournament play, however, sinking just 1 of 7 shots vs. American University, 3 of 11 vs. Butler and 3 of 15 vs. Louisville. That showing on the college game's biggest stage probably convinced pro scouts that Lofton was not worthy of an invitation to Orlando, even though he ranks third on the NCAA's all-time list of 3-point shooters with 431.

Although the odds are stacked heavily against him, it would be premature to write off Chris Lofton just yet. The guy has a track record for clearing hurdles.

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