That the shot of the day involved Chris Lofton will surprise no one, but just exactly what that shot involved might. The SEC’s All Time Leader in made Three Pointers didn’t hit some half-court shot with fifty kids watching. He didn’t throw the ball over his shoulder and swish the net without looking. In fact, the shot of the day was on a shot that didn’t even go in.
The coaches at Lofton’s Rocky Top Skills Camp had been working the fifty young women and men that had showed up for the camp’s third day hard in the Saint Joseph's Middle School Gym. Goals had been set up on the sides of the gym, with the younger kids playing side to side on the far end of the gym and the older ones playing side to side on the other, and both groups had coaches showing them new skills to utilize. Both sides also had coaches chirping in their ears as they went up and down the floor, playing hard with some team selections that were intended to challenge the kids.
So, when the pizza showed up for lunch, things went as you might expect.
Over all the talking, laughter, and kids inhaling a substantial stack of pizzas, you couldn’t hear anything from the day’s best shot. While everyone else was eating, one of the smallest boys at the camp, a young man who was an impressive ball handler for his size and age, was jumping for the goal on the far end of the floor. As he jumped, reaching for the goal, Lofton quietly came up behind him and asked him something. The young man nodded his head up and down with enthusiasm, and Lofton scooped him up and stood him on his shoulders. The young man did his best for a dunk, but wasn’t quite accustomed to operating above four feet, let alone nearly seven from atop the former Vol star’s shoulders. The ball didn’t go in, but no shot or scene from the day more summed up Lofton and his interaction with Knoxville than quietly lifting the last and smallest child on the floor to his shoulders for a dunk attempt.
Chris Lofton is a Volunteer legend, one of the best basketball players to ever don the Orange and White. The man was fearless on the floor, a leader for his team, and one of the most gifted shooters in the history of the SEC. He also drained one of the most cold-blooded shots in Tennessee history, right over Kevin Durant, to lead the Vols to victory over Texas and then Longhorn coach Rick Barnes. There have been multiple conversations about whether or not the university should retire Lofton’s number five, a move that would cement his well-deserved legacy as Volunteer Royalty.
Lofton faced some health trials while at Tennessee, something that he kept very quiet until after his senior season. He has also played basketball professionally all over the world, from Turkey, to the D-League, to France most recently, where he and his team are fresh off a league championship, and Lofton turned in some masterful performances. And aside from a couple questions about how playing internationally worked with teammates and coaches that may or may not speak English, none of that seemed to come into play.
Chris answered questions as he tried to get down enough pizza to keep up with the kids for the rest of the day, and happily responded that, “All his teammates in France spoke English, but in Turkey, an assistant had to translate everything from the head coach.” While he answered this with his typical good nature and a smile, it was the next few questions that made him light up like a Christmas tree.
When asked why he did the camp in Knoxville, Chris just grinned and responded quickly, “This is my second home, man.” One of the assistants reminded as well, “Folks were good to him here, it is important to him.” Chris nodded again, adding, “I love it here.” Home, and the value of it to Lofton, of the people and places he loves, became more and more evident as the day went on. Chris talked about the other locations he offers his camps, one in France where he plays now, one in Knoxville, and one in his hometown of Maysville, Kentucky. That connection to Maysville was also evident as several of the assistant coaches hailed from the area, with Chris introducing several as, “And this is one of my boys from back up in Kentucky.” Another assistant tried to expound on that relationship, “Those guys from up there, we’re family.”
Home and family. If there are two words to describe why Chris Lofton does what he does, there may not be a better pair to choose than home and family. He wants to give back to the communities he cares about, to communities that he feels were good to him. He wants to help those that helped him, because that is what families do. Watching him and talking with him in the gym that day, it was also clear there was one other, major component to the equation as well.
The fastest answer Chris gave all day, the one that made for the biggest smile, was when he was asked what was most important about his camps. Without a moment’s hesitation, he immediately responded, “That the kids have fun! That is what it is all about, that they have a good time.” Here, the same young man that had been on Lofton’s shoulders minutes before walked by, and Chris called him by name. “Hey,” Lofton said, “Are you having a good time today?” The young man nodded, giving an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” Lofton, still smiling, reached out to give the young man a high five, “Good. That’s what I want to hear.” It would have been interesting to see if it could be quantified to determine who was smiling more, the elementary student who had a Vol Legend know his name, of Lofton at getting to interact with and bring happiness to these kids.
Home and family, those two things resonated more and more the longer the day went on. Chris Lofton has left Maysville and Knoxville far behind in his playing days, but he gave so much to them during his time there. He shaped the history of both, but they both loved and shaped him as well. For that he continues to give back with his time, talents, money, and effort. Some days that may be teaching kids how to use a ball screen, and others it may be about making sure the guys he loves, and trusts have a place to use their skills with him. On this day, it was truly about making the kids in his second home smile. Home and family were the over arching themes for this camp, and that left me thinking of the words to a song. “Rocky Top, you’ll always be, home sweet home to me.” Knoxville may be a second home to Chris Lofton, but it will always be home sweet home. He will always be a favorite son, not just for his skill with a ball, but for the size of his heart and his determination to give back to his home and family.