Lofton still launchin'

There's a word for fans who got to watch Chris Lofton launch 3-pointers during his four-year Tennessee basketball career ... privileged.

I was reminded of this as I watched the greatest shooter in Vol history unload one sweet jump shot after another in the Rocky Top Summer League the past few weeks. Although he finished up at UT more than two years ago, C-Lo's stroke is as pure as ever. His last two games in the RTSL saw him hit 10 of 16 shots (5 of 8 from 3) en route to 33 points, then 16 of 24 (9 of 16 beyond the arc) on his way to 43 points.

I was impressed but not terribly surprised. If there's ever been a prettier - or deadlier - jump shot than Lofton's I've yet to see it. The fact that 30 NBA teams lack this same level of appreciation both confounds and angers me. Any league that can't find room for Chris Lofton isn't playing real basketball in my humble opinion.

In addition to being an outstanding basketball player, Lofton is an outstanding person. The courage he showed in playing through cancer as a Vol senior remains one of the great story-lines in program history. And, even though he is the third-most prolific 3-point shooter in NCAA history, there is not a hint of ego in his makeup.

Currently wrapping up his degree requirements at UT, Lofton was typically modest when asked about his progress.

"I've got two more classes," he said. "I'm taking one right now. I don't want to jinx myself but I hope I pass."

At one time he hoped to play in the NBA. Now he's not so sure.

"Oh, I don't know what I'm doing, really," he said. "I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'm waiting to see what European teams are calling. I'm probably going to play on a European team."

Lofton played last season in Spain, which reportedly boasts the best of the European hoops leagues. Asked if he's interested in returning to that country, he shrugged.

"Yeah, preferably," he said, "but I'll go anywhere."

Playing before a few hundred fans in the Rocky Top League is a far cry from playing in the NBA but Lofton sees benefits.

"It helps you stay ready," he said. "You're playing games, conditioning, running and having fun."

If Lofton were a "ball hog," he easily could average 45 points per game in the Rocky Top League. Instead, he chooses to blend in as a team player. Occasionally, though, he'll take over a game with a spectacular shooting exhibition. That was the case Wednesday night, when his Ray's ESG team trailed by 15 early in the second half. Lofton nailed three 3s in rapid succession and scored 15 points in a four-minute spurt that saw Ray's turn a 68-83 deficit into an 87-86 lead.

Afterward, when asked about the one-man rally, he smiled sheepishly and replied: "My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball, and my coach wanted me to shoot, so that's what I tried to do."

Clearly anticipating another season in Spain, Lofton is getting tutoring in Spanish these days. He's also fine-tuning his body and his stroke.

"I work out every morning at Pratt Pavilion," he said, referring to UT's practice facility. "I go through drills, go to class, lift weights, eat lunch, have my Spanish tutoring and then play in the Rocky Top League. It's a full day."

The day is never so full, however, that he can't find time to launch a few dozen of those sweet jumpers. Still, he says he doesn't shoot as many as he did during his Vol days.

"Not really," he said. "I do a lot of other stuff these days. I still get my shots up but I also do a lot of work."

Hopefully, that work eventually will pay off in a roster spot in the NBA. Then that team's fans can watch Lofton's silky smooth jump shot and feel the same way Tennessee fans once did.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories