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Pearl:Lofton ‘D’ must improve


Bruce Pearl isn’t afraid to call out his most valuable player in the presence of teammates — or among Rotarians.

The Tennessee Volunteer men’s basketball skipper called out senior standout shooting guard Chris Lofton for inadequate defense while serving as featured speaker at Farragut Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Fox Den Country Club.

“Number one, it’s important that I call him out in front of the rest of the team,” Pearl said. “One of the great complaints among players is, ‘sure, you’ll yell at me, but you won’t ever take on the best player.’ And when you do that, the rest of those guys, they pay attention to yah, ‘cause if you’re willing to call him out, God knows what you’re willing to do to me.’

“I used to tell my best players, and I [still] do sometimes, ‘I’m going to get on you in practice today and you’re not even going to deserve it, just shut up and take it, O-K,’” Pearl added to audience laughter. “So I can send those messages.

“But I didn’t even warn Chris about that because I’m really on Chris about this.”

Labeling Lofton “one of the best offensive players in college basketball,” Pearl added, “He’s one of the best college basketball players in the country. He’s got a chance to be First-Team All-American.”

However, “to be a great defensive player, you’ve got to put forth a tremendous amount of effort. It’s a very unselfish task,” the Vol skipper said. “At the same time, Chris needs to be fresh enough to get open, use screens, set screens, use ball screens.

“He rests defensively so he can score offensively,” Pearl added about Lofton. “… We’re committed to offense, that’s what we’re known for. And yet, defense wins championships.”

Asked by one of more than 100 Rotarians and other guests in attendance about replacing the leadership of graduated UT player Dane Bradshaw, Pearl said, “I’m going to have to take over a lot for some of the things that Dane did.”

As for Lofton, “He’s not a leader, just like C-J Watson wasn’t a leader two years ago,” Pearl said. “And I don’t want Chris to even waste an ounce of energy trying to lead. Lead by example.

“But he can’t be unselfish enough as a player to be a leader, he’s got to take shots and sometimes he’s going to take bad shots, and that’s a bad position to be in.”

NEXT STEP

As for the 2007-08 Volunteer team, Pearl said, “I believe our roster is built to take another step this coming year,” but added, “I don’t think we’re going to put up huge numbers because the schedule is not going to allow it.

“Here’s what’s dangerous about the S-E-C, the top three teams in the S-E-C are probably Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas, in my estimation. Those are probably the three most talented.”

As for his chief SEC rival, “Billy Donovan is the star of stars in college basketball, he is at the top of our profession,” Pearl said of the two-time defending NCAA champion head coach at Florida. “With him being at Florida, it hurts our chances of winning the S-E-C. It helps our chances of getting to the Final Four.”

Pearl stressed the importance of overcoming an “inferiority complex in men’s basketball at Tennessee … it exists to a lesser extent now but it certainly existed a few years ago.”

Saying “winning and losing is never in my prayers,” Pearl recalled a scene in the Gibbs Hall cafeteria shortly after become Vol head coach.

“I saw the way my guys carried themselves in that cafeteria,” he said. “They didn’t stand up straight and tall, they didn’t have anything that said ‘Tennessee Basketball’ on their shirts. … I guess I did ask God just for the blessing to please give me the wisdom and the ability, so that these guys can come into that cafeteria someday feeling like they belonged.”

Rotary member Edward Jones, a wealth manager with Jones Kirkpatrick & Associates Financial Services in West Knoxville, said he was impressed with Pearl’s “enthusiasm, I mean he’s full of energy. He can really excite a crowd. I think it contributes greatly to the success of his team, his personality, he’s just a ball of energy, that just sums it up. He definitely strikes me as genuine. He is a humanitarian above all. I think he puts the human interest above the sport.”

(See related story beginning on page 21).

 

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