Memory of Lofton's 'bomb' still fresh for Barnes

Memory of Lofton's 'bomb' still fresh for Barnes

April 5th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee's Chris Lofton (5) brings the ball upcourt in this 2006 file photo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Bring up the last time Rick Barnes set foot in Thompson-Boling Arena, and Tennessee's new basketball coach can recall an impressive amount of details from the visit.

Barnes remembers the mistakes his Texas team, with four freshman starters, down the stretch of an eventual overtime loss, a questionable call that went against the Longhorns and the name of the official who made it.

Oh, and he remembers, too, what became one of the most famous shots in Tennessee's hoops history.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Barnes recalled Friday morning.

It was more than eight years ago that Tennessee All-American Chris Lofton hit a 3-pointer from nearly 30 feet over Texas freshman and future NBA MVP Kevin Durant as the Vols erased a 17-point deficit for a 111-105 win against the Longhorns in December 2006.

"I could go point on the floor right where he made it," Barnes told the Times Free Press during an interview in the office he inherited when the Vols hired him Tuesday after 17 years at Texas.

"I could walk you down there right now and show you where he made the shot from. It was a bomb. But he made bombs. He's one of those guys that when he comes across halfcourt, you knew you better know where he is."

In less than a week at Tennessee, Barnes has shown he can tell a story or two. It's what happens when you've been a coach for more than 30 years, dating back to his days as an assistant coach at Davidson. Barnes' storytelling ability might as well be on his resume with the 604 career wins and the 23 NBA draft picks he's produced in 28 seasons as a head coach.

At his introduction Tuesday, he recalled driving from Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, N.C., to Knoxville to attend a Tennessee game with his future wife in 1974 and the time then-Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey called him to request an interview while he was at the 1989 Final Four in Seattle following his first season at Providence.

Friday morning, Barnes recalled paying homage of sorts to Bob Knight and Bob Huggins when he didn't wear ties in games against Texas Tech and West Virginia after the two coaching veterans told him he needed to stop wearing them.

The media in Providence made fun of Barnes for his Southern accent, he'll tell you, and he can rattle off the names of various members of the Washington, D.C., media from his time at George Mason.

The most memorable of the four times he coached against Tennessee while at Texas is in the memory banks, too.

The Longhorns led 50-35 at halftime, fended off every Tennessee second-half run inside a raucous arena and took an 86-78 lead with 2:50 left after A.J. Abrams capped an 11-4 run with a 3.

"We were great at closing games out, because we had three guys on the floor that shot over 85 percent from the free-throw line," Barnes said. "What happened was, I remember calling a timeout and telling our guys, 'I don't care if we have a shot-clock violation, we're going to take the clock down.'

"Tennessee left Kevin so wide open it was ridiculous, because he'd had a great game, and he shot it."

That miss, with nearly 25 seconds left on the shot clock, led to a runout off which Tennessee scored. With Texas up five, Durant missed on a drive with more than 20 seconds left, and Lofton answered with a 3.

After a miss from D.J. Augustin, another future NBA player who was a freshman that season, Lofton hit his iconic shot to give Tennessee an 88-87 lead with 18.1 seconds left.

Durant forced overtime by banking in a tying shot with 1.1 seconds to go, but the Vols opened the extra period with a 12-4 run and ran to a win.

Barnes remembers that game being a teaching moment for him with Durant, who'd go on to average 25.8 points per game, the fourth-best scoring rate in the country, in his lone season in college.

"After the game I got on Kevin for clock management," Barnes said, "because his idea was he was such a great-minded player and a competitor, that when he missed the first shot ... he thinks he's going to make every shot.

"He shot a shot one time over the corner of the backboard in Austin. I took him out of the game and said, 'Why would you take that shot?' He looked at me, dead serious, and said, 'I thought I could make it.'

"After that game, I got him about clock management, and he came back after Christmas and said to me, 'Coach, I really want to learn how to play the game and work the game.' That's the kind of player he was."

Texas lost two seniors, two transfers and a trio of NBA draft early-entrants (LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker and Daniel Gibson) from an Elite Eight run, so his 2006-07 team relied heavily on the freshmen who were part of a top-five recruiting class that included Durant, Augustin, Damion James, Justin Mason and Dexter Pittman.

Barnes recalled telling ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who was an assistant under him at Providence, going into that season that he had the best player in the country -- not just the best freshman in the country -- in Durant.

"We had developed a work ethic with our program," Barnes said. "When we lost all those guys, our biggest fear as a coaching staff was how quickly we could rebuild the culture in terms of work ethic that we had. We didn't miss a beat, because of Kevin. He was a guy that, there's only one word to describe him, is 'passion.'

"He would be in the gym all hours of the day. He was the kind of person that when we'd come back from a game and he didn't play well, he'd go right to the gym. If we were at home, he'd go right up and shoot the ball. He was all about his teammates. He never ever wanted the attention on him, and he always protected his teammates and his coaches."

Sunday, Durant posted a picture on his Twitter account of him with Barnes during a game at Texas that included the following caption: "I learned a lot from this guy, was much more than a coach but a father figure! Love you, Thank you."

"I remember recruiting him, and he actually told me he knew that he had great God-given talent," Barnes said. "He said, 'I don't want to look back one day and think that I didn't do my part to live up to what God had given me. His slogan has always been, 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work.'

"When you combine hard work with talent, you get a superstar."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.


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