Chris Lofton looked a lot like his old self again Saturday at the BMaze Celebrity Game at Hardin Valley Academy.
His same shooting stroke, his drives to the baskets, just like when he was a fan favorite at Tennessee from 2004-08.
Lofton, who had back surgery last October, is fully recovered and waiting for his next professional job in Europe. He also played in the Rocky Top League last week.
“I just got cleared, so I’m back playing now,” Lofton said before Saturday’s game. “I’m just waiting to hear from over in Europe to see where I’m going next year.”
Lofton was released from his contract with Lagun Aro GBC of Spain’s ACB League on Sept. 19, 2012, about a month after signing with the team. He also was released from another team in the same league in August of 2011 due to back inflammation.
Most of the time, Lofton lives in Lexington, Ky., but he visits Knoxville often.
“It’s my second home,” Lofton said. “I love it here. I’m happy to be able to play basketball again in front of a Knoxville crowd.”
Lofton drew plenty of cheers from the Vols’ faithful among the standing-room-only crowd of 2,600 during pre-game introductions in the HVA gym.
Perhaps the biggest cheer from UT fans came when former Tennessee men’s coach Bruce Pearl was announced.
Lofton laughed when asked about playing with Pearl on the sideline again this time as an opposing coach, not his coach. Lofton played on the Red team (coached by Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick) and Pearl coached the Blue team.
“It’s going to be fun,” Lofton said, chuckling. “It will bring back old times.
I’m excited for it.”
Tobias’ Magic: Former UT freshman All-American Tobias Harris has taken a liking to his new NBA team, the Orlando Magic, where he started the last 20 games this past season after being traded by the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 21.
The 6-foot-8 forward played in 27 games for the Magic and averaged 36.1 minutes, 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
That came after minimal playing time in a season and a half with the Bucks.
“Being in Orlando the last half of the season was great,” Harris said at halftime of Saturday’s game. “I got to play the game I love and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be on the court, and I’m going to continue to take advantage of it.”
Harris spent one season with UT (2010-11), averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, and was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 19th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
His career never took off in Milwaukee. He started nine games as a rookie and averaged 11.4 minutes, five points, and 2.4 rebounds. This past season, Harris had 14 starts and averaged 11.6 minutes, 4.9 points, and two rebounds before being traded to the Magic.
Although Harris didn’t play in Saturday’s game, he knocked down 18 3-point shots in 1 minute and won the 3-point shooting contest.
Pearl’s Return?: Pearl downplayed a possible return to college coaching once his three-year show-cause penalty imposed by the NCAA ends Aug. 23, 2014, saying he likes his current job at H.T. Hackney and his part-time job as an ESPN commentator.
However, Warlick was glad to see Pearl back on the sideline for the first time since he was fired by UT after the 2010-11 season, and said she wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the college game.
“I think he’ll be on the sideline eventually,” Warlick said. “He’s very good at coaching. He’s very good at what he does.”
Harris also was happy to see Pearl coaching again.
“It just brings me back to the days when Coach Pearl used to coach me at Tennessee,” Harris said. “It’s great to see him back out there, and hopefully after this year he’ll get back out there at some point.”
Coaches’ Meeting: Tennessee men’s coach Cuonzo Martin was a celebrity judge for the slam dunk contest won by former Marshall/Lee University player Antonio Haymon.
Other judges were former NBA player Steve Francis, former Vol/current Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, and reality television personality Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander.
Before the slam-dunk contest, Martin shook hands and spoke with Pearl on the court, and Martin then spoke with former Pearl assistant Tony Jones for several minutes.
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.