After his performance on the court over the past 4 years, I hardly needed anything to make me consider Chris Lofton to be one of the great players to wear the orange and white. The revelations of last week regarding Lofton's off-the-court struggles, however, only serve to further cement Lofton's place in Tennessee Volunteers history, and have elevated him to the status of legend.
As you may well know, last week ESPN's Chris Low reported on Chris Lofton's battle with his greatest adversary, and all that came along with it. This adversary is not a team, a player, or a coach -- it is not the usual opponent for a college basketball player, and in fact has absolutely nothing to do with basketball whatsoever.
The opponent is cancer, and I'm pleased to say that Lofton is undefeated.
It absolutely amazes me that Chris Lofton has spent a year of his life battling cancer and, at the same time, took the court for the BasketVols every night as its most visible leader. While he was wowing Orange Nation with his shooting ability, coolness under fire, and tenacity -- away from the court he was dealing with the most intense duel of his life: the fight for his life.
And none of us ever knew anything about it...
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to have the weight of cancer treatment bearing down on you, as you try to go out and play your best at a game which, when compared to a life-or-death struggle, seems so very unimportant. The adversity would have made most people crumble. Had I been in his shoes, I cannot say that I would not have opted to simply "sit this one out" and just try to get by. Lofton, however, didn't just "get by" during this period, he succeeded, he conquered, he overcame -- both on the basketball floor and in his fight against cancer.
I am not going to try and tell the whole story of what Lofton went through, Chris Low does a beautiful job, and I strongly encourage anyone who has not read Low's story to do so. What I will say is an even more heartfelt thank you than I said to Lofton as he played his last game as a Tennessee Volunteer. The unselfishness he showed this season was always apparent in the way he played the game, but now we all know just how unselfish he truly was. I cannot personally think of a greater sacrifice or more unselfish act by a player at Tennessee. Now, more than ever, I am stuck by the maturity, poise, and integrity that Chris Lofton demonstrates both on the floor and off. I am so very proud that I can say Chris Lofton played for Tennessee.
I also want to give credit to the other members of the basketball squad and the coaching staff for respecting Lofton's wish that his condition not be publicly released until he was ready to discuss it. In this age of constant media attention -- sometimes to a ridiculous degree -- it is hard to believe that this story was not plastered all over the internet or elsewhere long before Lofton sat down with Low to tell his story. That is exemplary of the kind of trust usually reserved for family members. That speaks volumes about the character of the leadership within the basketball program.
Furthermore, as Chris Low said while talking to Basilio last week, he learned of Lofton's condition months before he reported on it last week. I applaud Low for approaching Lofton, asking him about it, and honoring Lofton's wishes that Low not report the story, unless and until Lofton was ready. That is the mark of a good journalist.
I sincerely hope that Chris Lofton's bout with cancer is over once and for all. I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope that he gets the chance to excel at the next level -- whether that be in the NBA, in business, or in life. Given the kind of person Chris Lofton has shown himself to be, I have a feeling that -- no matter what path he follows -- he will find success though hard work, integrity and determination.
Bearing all of that in mind, I want to publicly encourage the University of Tennessee to give a little something back to Chris Lofton. In my opinon, it is time for number 5 to go into the rafters, and be retired -- for excellence as a basketball player, as a student-athlete, and as a person. I think Chris Lofton has more than earned it.
Thank you, Chris Lofton, for all that you have given to the University of Tennessee, for your example as a rolemodel, and for having the soul of a legend.
You've not only thrilled us in basketball, you've inspired us as human beings. For that, I am grateful.
Image Courtesy of: AP / Rivals.com
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