Lofton’s legacy continues to grow

Chris Lofton's memorable playoff run etches his name in more record books

Chris Lofton has had his fair share of moments where people wonder, ‘How did he do that?’.

Whether it was under the radar games in high school summer league when Lofton’s former teammates told me about a game where he willed his Mason County team down 20-plus to a victory, or the time he broke onto the state tournament scene, scoring 29 points against Butler in his first of three straight tournament appearances. Lofton’s latest feat adds to that list.

Lofton added to his legacy over the past month as he helped his French League team, LeMans Sarthe to a French League title in the JeepELITE playoffs on Sunday.

“This one was special,” Lofton said, who arrived back in the U.S. on Wednesday. “I’m trying to think of the last time I was that excited. I’m very happy. We won a French Cup before here, but this is different going through a couple playoff series. It’s my first league title playing professionally.”

Before the playoffs even began, Lofton was wondering if this was it, his 10th season professionally. He’d come off the bench throughout the regular season, playing around 15 minutes a night, averaging 8.4 points a game.

“I didn’t know if I could do this anymore. It took patience. I read devotionals a lot and felt God was telling me to be patient and not to worry. I didn’t know if this was coming to an end but in the end God came through,” Lofton said.

Chris Lofton added to an already long legacy with his recent playoff run with his French League team, LeMans, putting together a few memorable games as they claimed the French League title.

LeMans struggled down the stretch, losing their final three games of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs to Lyon-Villeurbanne in a best-of-three series, putting LeMans a loss away from elimination. Then coach Eric Bartecheky made a change. Lofton was inserted into the starting lineup and immediately made his presence felt, scoring 20 points and knocking down six 3-pointers. After scoring 11 points in the series clinching victory, LeMans next opponent was Strasbourg, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, LeMans the No. 3.

After dropping the first game of the semifinal series to Strasbourg, it was Lofton again responding, scoring 19 points and draining five triples as LeMans would even up the best-of-five series at 1-1. The two would split the next two games, facing a winner-take-all game to the championship series.

Then the all-time 3-point leader at Mason County and in the SEC at Tennessee did what he’s done for so long, having a flair for the dramatic in crunch time. After regulation couldn’t decide the outcome between the two teams, Lofton went on a heater in overtime. The former Royal would knock down three 3-pointers in the extra frame and scored 13 points in five minutes to help give LeMans an 85-79 victory, advancing to the championship series against the No. 1 seed, Monaco.

“I was shooting good from the field that game, just didn’t shoot a lot (in regulation). I remember my teammate in the huddle in overtime telling coach to get me the ball, call plays for Chris,” Lofton said. “I just had it going that night. That’s what a team does is ride the hot hand.”

Lofton ended with a team-high 25 points in the contest to get LeMans to the championship, winning their third straight game when facing elimination .

Now came Monaco, the top team in the league who finished with a 25-9 record during the regular season and won their first two playoff series’ with relative ease, dropping just one contest. They’d enter as the favorites and take the first game of the series.

“We really weren’t supposed to win any of the series we played in. We weren’t favored in any of them,” Lofton said.

LeMans would take Game 2 and in Game 3 Lofton etched his name in another record book…this one in French. The Royals all-time leading scorer went off for 34 points in the pivotal game in the series, giving LeMans a 84-72 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.

In a highlight-reel that came out after the game on social media, Lofton was draining everything from fadeaway jumpers to step back 3-pointers.

“It was one of those days. As the kids say these days, ‘I was in my bag that night.’,” Lofton said. “I was feeling good. I haven’t had a game like that in a while.”

The 34 points are the third most in LNB Finals history, trailing just Don Collins and David Rivers with 40 and 36 points in a game, respectively. As he had been getting throughout the playoff run, the outpouring of support from Maysville and people back home was visible to Lofton.

“It’s always good to see Maysville behind me. Maysville has a special place in my heart and always will. Everything I do, I do it for Maysville, especially on the courts. I just want to let them know I appreciate all the support they’ve given me throughout my career. It means so much to me and I appreciate them and the community,” Lofton said.

Monaco would grab game four in LeMans, setting up a winner-take-all contest back in Monaco for the title. LeMans won the title-clinching contest with a 76-74 victory, Lofton netting 10 points.

“I prayed for this. I just wanted to win a championship and God never failed. We had a lot of vets on our team and none of us had won a championship. We had some very talented young guys and some great leadership. Coach did a great job of putting each one of us in positions to succeed,” Lofton said.

The victory followed with a parade the next day where the fans came to the city to greet and celebrate with the team, the league title being their fifth in franchise history and first since 2006.

After finishing his 10th season professionally, Lofton plans to relax and rest his body for a couple weeks before getting back to the training grind and development for his 11th season.

“Not gonna lie, my body is starting to feel it. I try to do a good job of taking care of my body, relaxing, stretching. The European season is so long, it’s a grind. I’ll get wit

h my agent in a few weeks and go from there,” Lofton said.

With the long playoff run, Lofton was unable to attend the Chris Lofton/Darius Miller skills camp in Maysville this year, but was still able to Skype with campers one afternoon for a Q&A session.

The extended playoff stay also forced his Knoxville skills camp to be rescheduled, where he’ll hold the camp July 16-18.

 

EVAN DENNISON

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