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May 26, 2008

Lofton taking his game to next level

Once upon a time they were just kids.

They weren't yet stooping to get through doorways or hitting jumpers from everywhere. They weren't yet identified as future millionaires.

But they already possessed the type of talent and desire that would allow them eventually to realize their dreams.

As part of its NBA Draft coverage, Rivals.com has ventured to find the stories behind the stories. We have talked to the high school coaches of potential draft picks to ask where these players came from and what separated them from the rest of the crop.

Don't be surprised if you find some common traits in each of these prospects.

CHRIS LOFTON, G, TENNESSEE
High school: Maysville (Ky.) Mason County Coach: Kelly Wells

When is the first time you remember thinking Chris could play professionally someday?

"It wasn't until he was at Tennessee that we first started to see glimpses of an NBA career. In high school, he didn't get recruited by a lot of high-major schools, so the thought of the NBA didn't enter my mind. But as a freshman at Tennessee, when he played for Buzz Peterson, they started calling his number to hit game-winners. That's when we saw the first glimpse.

"I knew he was going to be a very good high school player and would be a great shooter, but I also knew he had limitations. In the SEC, there are no second-class athletes, so I was a little surprised that he became such a great player. What I didn't realize was how smart he was. He really accelerated his abilities from finding ways to get open and finding ways to get his shot off."

What game sticks out the most in your memory when you look back on his high school career?

"Obviously, the state championship game his senior year is one that sticks out. It was monumental because we won the school's first state championship. Chris played extremely well. He was named MVP of the tournament.

"There was one game where Chris had eight 3-pointers and needed one more for the school record, but we were up by 21 so I had to take him out.

"Another vivid memory was at the Fifth Third Bank Classic in Lexington, Ky., which is one of the nation's top high school tournaments, in Chris' senior year. He hit a shot from near halfcourt to send the title game into overtime and then, of course, took over in overtime and we won. That's what really started the momentum that carried us to the state title."

How often do you keep in touch with him?

"We talk about once a week, with the exception of when he had cancer. I think he only told his parents and Coach (Bruce) Pearl about that. We talk about everything from his career to agents to all sorts of topics. Our relationship has gone from coach-player to a friendship."

When do you expect him to get drafted?

"I would love for Chris to be a lottery pick, but realistically I think he will go in the second round. However, I've learned to never set a boundary on Chris in my lifetime, whether it's his high school career, college career or his health. He's capable of breaking any standard."

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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