Tennessee basketball player Chris Lofton was battling more than gimmick defenses last season. He was…
Certainly, the numbers were not vintage Lofton. The former Tennessee basketball player suffered notable declines in his scoring average, his field-goal percentage and his 3-point percentage. Even so, what we got each time he took the court was the very essence of Chris Lofton – his courage, his dedication, his mental and physical toughness. He gave fans everything he had ... except his awful little secret.
Low-key and soft-spoken by nature, Lofton's approach always has been to let his play do his talking. That's why it isn't surprising that he never talked about his cancer. Heck, he was reluctant to talk about his performances. After scoring a career-high 35 points vs. Texas on Dec. 23, 2006, he was in the process of slipping out of Thompson-Boling Arena when he was literally "apprehended" and forced to visit the media room for a few minutes of post-game interviews.
Lofton's refusal to mention his cancer battle was perfectly in line with his personality. You can sum up his approach to basketball in four words: No complaints. No excuses.
Physically drained by surgery and four weeks of offseason radiation treatments, he struggled throughout most of the 2007-08 season. He never had been explosive, but now he seemed to have lost a step of quickness on his drives to the basket. He seemed to have lost some elevation on his jump shot, too. And he seemed to have lost some of his stamina.
As his scoring average and minutes went down, one question increasingly came up: What's wrong with Chris Lofton?
He never told us. True to form, he suffered in silence, fighting a quiet battle against an insidious disease. He gave his all every time he took the floor, even though his energy level was diminished. He exhibited no frustration, even though he could not play up to his previous level. He dismissed the repeated questions about his health and somehow managed to ignore the occasional criticism of his play.
A lesser man would've lost his poise and broken his silence. He would've snapped at some point and grumbled, "I've been battling cancer, OK? That's why I can't play as well as I did before. Are you happy now?"
To his credit, Chris Lofton never snapped. True to his nature, he kept his mouth shut and his composure intact. In the end, he managed to defeat an opponent far more imposing than any he ever encountered on a basketball court.
Through it all, he competed with dignity and class. The numbers he compiled might not suggest he was an All-American but the character he displayed on a daily basis was All-American in a far deeper sense.
By giving everything he had, without complaint, even as his world seemed to be crumbling all around him, Chris Lofton quietly demonstrated what being a college basketball player is all about.
He didn't just respect the game. He honored it.
And, in doing so, he showed us the real Chris Lofton.