It seemed like a heartwarming moment. Rick Barnes brought Chris Lofton to a Tennessee basketball practice and surprised him. He revealed to Lofton that his No. 5 would be retired, joining the ranks of Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld, Dale Ellis and Allan Houston.
Chris knew something was wrong… pic.twitter.com/iiPbLHf2F0
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) September 15, 2022
However, this moment with Barnes and Lofton is as ironic as it gets. That’s because Lofton faced the Barnes Texas Longhorns four years in a row, and he had arguably the greatest shot in history to lead the Vols to a comeback win over them in 2006.
Down 16 in the second half, the Vols fought back to force overtime in that game. Before regulation ended, however, Lofton dropped Kevin Durant from a long distance on the court. This gave Tennessee basketball its first second-half lead.
(2006) Chris Lofton hits the DEEP going forward three on Kevin Durant to give Tennessee the win over Texas. Clutch. pic.twitter.com/5lmj9Khut2
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) October 1, 2017
It remains one of the most memorable shots in UT history, and Lofton had 35 points in that game. However, that’s not the only time he’s burned down Texas. The Thefts release party under Bruce Pearl ended in a blowout victory the previous year in Texas. In that game, Lofton had 21 points and shot 5 of 8 from three.
To be fair, Barnes beat Lofton twice, as Texas blew the Vols to Maui in 2004, Buzz Peterson’s senior year, and they won in 2007. However, those two intervening years were all because from Lofton, so Barnes was one of the point players he fell victim to.
The fact that Lofton’s jersey has to be retired needs no explanation. He was a two-time All-American and is the SEC’s all-time leading three-point shooter, leading Auburn Tigers No. 2 man Bryce Brown by 49 three-pointers.
Also, Lofton’s success translated into Tennessee’s basketball success. He led the Vols to three straight NCAA Tournaments, two Sweet 16 appearances and their first No. SEC and had their first 30+ win season.
Pearl’s last three years with the Vols had the Elite 8 run in 2010, but overall they didn’t match those first three years with Lofton at the helm. Very few players have been able to accomplish what he did, especially for an undersized guard who wasn’t that fast.
Nor are team and individual successes the only reasons to hail Lofton. In his senior year, while the Vols were pushing for a national championship, he was struck down with testicular cancer. He played, but it held him back all season, and he wasn’t himself.
Lofton was set to play a lesser role, as Tyler Smith had joined the team and Wayne Chism and JaJuan Smith expanded. He turned out to be the ultimate team player that year, and honestly, doing so not to mention his personal health may have cost him a shot at the NBA in the end.
Still, he deserves all the praise he can get from Tennessee basketball. Seeing Barnes give her the news, however, remains one of the most ironic things to ever happen in the program’s history. At least they can respect each other despite this game.