Lofton Overlooked

What were they thinking?

Sports

by Tony Basilo No Chris Lofton means no Tony Basilio. The USA men's national team will play in the Pan American games in August minus Chris Lofton, who was cut after a three-day tryout in Philadelphia in mid-July. The best shooter in college basketball won't be there when the USA, with a team featuring the â“bestâ” college players, takes on the world, and neither will I. In fact, I'm hoping the USA gets embarrassed in this tourney.

I'm not alone in my outrage. Mike DeCourcy, longtime conscience of the game at the Sporting News , was equally blown away by Lofton's being left from the USA national team. â“The problem is you didn't get the memo that Chris Lofton has forgotten how to shoot,â” he says. â“He had three bad days in Philadelphia so he's forgotten how to shoot. That has to be the conclusion we come to, becauseâ I went down to Dallas in 2005â"JJ Reddick was trying out for, I believe, the Under-21 National Teamâ"and didn't make a shot the whole week. He really struggled, but he made the team anyway.â”

Lofton's diss from USA hoops coupled with Reddick's inclusion a few years back had me thinking about St. Joseph's Head Coach Phil Martelli when he speaks of the â“Regal Society of College Basketball.â” There are a select chosen few, and then there's everyone else. Last time I checked, Knoxville wasn't on Tobacco Road and Bernard King was left off the '76 Olympic Team. While DeCourcy won't join me in the conspiracy theories, he's no less blown away by the slight of Lofton.

â“Some things are a given,â” he says. â“Chris Lofton is the best shooter in America. In collegiate basketball, it's not even close. Second place is so far back that Chris is passing the finish line and second place is beginning the bell lap. And he doesn't make it? That's horrendous.â”

Once word leaked out that Lofton was left off the team, many in Rocky Top were pointing fingers at Villanova's Head Coach Jay Wright and Alabama's Assistant Mark Gottfried as culprits in the slighting of Tennessee's shooting guard. DeCourcy said it's not that simple.

â“The common misperception about these tryouts is that coaches pick the players,â” he says. â“Villanova's Jay Wright doesn't get to pick the team he's going to coach. USA basketball has this antiquated system of bringing in a panel of college coaches to pick the team. It's a deplorable way of putting a team together. Look at it: As of mid-July we (USA basketball) have zero gold medals in international competition right now. We have none. That's pathetic.â”

The finger needs to be pointed at the selection committee consisting of Bill Self from Kansas, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Ernie Kent from Oregon, and Tubby Smith of Minnesota. These are the geniuses that concluded that the USA's entrant into the Pan American Games would be better off without Lofton. It's incomprehensible that Smith would sit idly by and watch Lofton's omission. After all, didn't Lofton's omission from Kentucky's recruiting plans a few years back ultimately force Smith to hightail it to a second-tier job at Minnesota? The decision not to sign Chris Lofton will haunt Tubby Smith for the rest of his coaching life. Yet he allows the senior from Maysville, Ky., to be cut from the Pan Am Team? Disgraceful.

The US dropped the U-21 tourney the final time it was played in Argentina back in '05. There's no Olympic gold medal to fall back on. No World Championship of basketball to call our own. DeCourcy thinks it's time to upset the apple cart.

â“At what point do we look at USA basketball and say, â‘Hey guys. Try something different!' It's ridiculous that they continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results,â” he says.

Coming off the embarrassment of the past couple of world tournaments involving its senior team (mostly NBA players), USA basketball is shifting the paradigm to selecting its team from a core group that trains together over time. It's a similar formula to what USA soccer uses when selecting its national teams that live together and train together for lengthy periods before competing on the world stage. Decourcy agreed with the change.

â“I think it's a step in the right direction. Still, though, you have the junior level where USA basketball continues to bang their head against the wall because a guy like Chris Lofton is told he's not needed after not shooting the ball well. I'm sorry, but that stinks,â” he says.

Despite poor results recently, DeCourcy is betting USA basketball gets it turned around: â“I think the new, team-oriented selection process at the senior level will help them get it figured out internationally. The truth is, we still play the best basketball in the world in this country,â” DeCourcy says.

Yeah, I know. But let's hope we stink it up in the Pan Am Games. No Lofton, no me. Go Argentina!

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.   Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.

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