Chris Lofton and Bobby Maze were never teammates at Tennessee, but they are expected to share the same backcourt for the Iowa Energy in the NBA Development League.
Lofton was the sixth overall pick in Monday’s NBA D-League draft while Maze was Iowa’s seventh round pick. The regular season begins on Nov. 19.
Other former Vols selected in the 16-team’s draft included JaJuan Smith (sixth round, Maine Red Claws) and Scooter McFadgon (eighth round, Austin Toros). Former UT player Stanley Asumnu is a returning player with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Lofton could have just as easily been playing in Europe again, but opted to try his luck in the NBA DL.
“It’s going to be great playing with another Vol,’’ Lofton said. “We never played together in college, but I saw Bobby play a lot and he’s real good.’’
Nevada’s Nick Fazekas was the first overall pick in the draft, and Villanova All-American Scottie Reynolds wasn’t selected until the 13th overall pick, just to give some indication as to why this was being referred to as the deepest draft in NBA D-League history.
“With this year’s NBA draft pool being so deep with talent, it isn’t surprising that many who didn’t hear their names called on draft night in June continue to cling to the hopes of making an NBA roster through a D-League call up,’’ said Jared Karnes,who represents Lofton in addition to former UT players Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith. “Another reason the D-League draft pool is so deep is because there are fewer overseas jobs for rookies that have the high salaries of previous years.’’
Karnes explained that, while Chism and Tyler Smith are in good situations — each making more than $100,000 in Turkey — there have been tighter restrictions placed on the number of “foreigners” permitted on each overseas team.
While Lofton will be playing in the NBA D-League with Maze, it was his time at UT with JaJuan Smith that will be remembered in the Vols’ history books.
Lofton and Smith formed a deadly outside-shooting duo in leading the Vols to their first and only No. 1-ranking in the basketball polls after they toppled previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Memphis, 66-62, on Feb. 23, 2008.
Lofton had an offer to re-sign with his ACB team in Madrid, Spain, but chose the 16-team NBA D-League even though he’ll make considerably less money.
Lofton’s hoping for the kind of NBA call-up fom the NBA D-League that former UT point guard C.J.Watson received in 2007 with the Golden State Warriors.
Watson made the most of his opportunity with the Warriors and played 2 ½ seasons there before signing this season with the Chicago Bulls.
For now, Lofton will play his home games in Des Moines in 16,110-seat Wells Fargo Arena at the $217 million Iowa Events Center.
The Iowa Energy won a league record 37 games (13 losses) last season and had four players called up to play in the NBA.
The Energy is affiliated with the Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls, but because Lofton was drafted — and not assigned there by either of the parent organizations — he can be called up to play for any NBA franchise.
JaJuan Smith nearly made it into the NBA 1½ years ago, sticking with the Dallas Mavericks up to the final cut. He has since played in Europe and South America.
The Maine Red Claws are affiliated with the Boston Celtics and the Charlotte Bobcats and play in Portland, Maine. They play their home games in the Portland Expo Building, which was built in 1914 but renovated last year.
Maze finished his career at UT last season but was unable to catch-on with any NBA teams during the free agent period last summer.
McFadgon is a two-year veteran of the NBA D-League, playing for the Bakersfield Jam in 2006-07 and again in 2007-08 before taking his talents overseas.
Chism Update: Chism is back in Tennessee while rehabbing a partially torn (sprained) MCL in his left knee. Chism opted to return to the U.S. to get his medical diagnosis and treatment here. He’s expected to return to Turkey in three weeks.