Lofton honored tonight

The fact former Vol Chris Lofton will be honored at tonight's Tennessee-North Carolina A&T basketball game is replete with irony.

For instance:

- The greatest 3-point shooter in program history is being recognized as his former team is coming off an abysmal 2-for-22 performance beyond the arc at Southern Cal.

- The Vols' heart is being questioned as they welcome back a guy who played through cancer his entire senior season.

- A roster many observers consider to be filled with underachievers will share the spotlight with a guy who was a classic overachiever.

- A team that many fans are down on at the moment could be upstaged by one of the most popular players in program history.

Being the nice guy that he is, Lofton hopes fans will cut the current Vols some slack as they try to rebound (literally and figuratively) from the 77-55 loss at USC.

"People want to get down on them after the USC game but you're going to have games like that," he said. "Everybody's not going to play good every night. You're not going to have the energy."

Lofton is no stranger to lopsided losses. He played for Buzz Peterson's 2004-05 Vol team that lost 95-70 to Texas, 77-58 at New Mexico, 88-63 at home to Vanderbilt, 85-62 at Louisville, 84-62 at Kentucky and 72-54 at home to Alabama. He also suffered a few ugly setbacks during his three years under Bruce Pearl - a 76-57 loss at Kentucky in 2007, a 97-78 loss to Texas in 2008 and an 89-70 Sweet 16 loss to Louisville in his final college game.

Lofton says the trick is quickly putting a devastating defeat in the past. That's tonight's key for the Vols.

"It's the next game that you've got to be ready. How do you bounce back from that?" he said. "You can take a step forward or you can go backward. I think this game will let them know where their season's going."

Asked if he had any advice for the Vols' struggling 3-point shooters, Lofton grinned sheepishly and replied: "Just get extra shots, after and before practice."

No Tennessee player ever took more pre- and post-practice shots than Lofton. That dedication helped him leave UT as the program's all-time leader in 3-pointers made during a game (9), a season (118) and a career (431).

Despite his remarkable shooting prowess, Lofton was deemed too small and too slow by the teams in the National Basketball Association. Perhaps refining his game in overseas pro leagues eventually will enable him to earn a job in the NBA, as former Vol teammate C.J. Watson has done.

Asked if he still harbors NBA dreams, Lofton shrugged and replied: "I don't know. It's always there - the summer leagues and all that stuff. I just take it one day at a time and go wherever is best for me."

Right now, the place that's best for him is Spain, which has a high-caliber pro league. He played there all fall and will be returning in a few days.

"I just got back from Spain about a month ago," Lofton said. "I'm about to head back over after Christmas."

Lofton, who also played professionally in Turkey, says the level of play in Spain is considerably higher.

"The league was better overall," he said. "There's a lot of competition in the Spain League. People say that's the best league ... the Spain league. The competition was better, and I'm looking forward to going back."


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