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April 26, 2007

SEC's top award doesn't translate in NBA

Associated Press SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton said Tuesday that he was returning to Tennessee for his senior season.

That's a good call. Lofton is not ready for the NBA, but he started to show signs this past season with improved ball-handling skills and more forays to the basket.

In fact, Lofton's new-found ability to drive into the lane resulted in 159 free-throw attempts, 58 more than in his first two seasons combined. He actually played 40 fewer minutes than he did as a sophomore yet still shot 99 more free throws. That's a great thing - not only because it gets the other team in foul trouble, but because he's an 82.4 percent career shooter at the charity stripe.

There's little doubt Lofton will continue to improve. He's a hard-working, humble, thoughtful kid. Despite being overlooked by many coming out of high school in Maysville, Ky., he has made himself into one of the best players in college basketball.

Lofton has increased his scoring average in each of his three seasons. A revelation in his first year, he scored 13.2 points per game and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. He bumped that up to All-SEC and some All-America teams as a sophomore by averaging 17.2 ppg. Then came last year, when he led the SEC in scoring (20.8 ppg) and was named the league MVP by the writers (Vanderbilt's Derrick Byars was named SEC player of the year by the league's coaches).

Because of Lofton and the talent Bruce Pearl has put around him, the Vols will be in everybody's preseason top 10. The 6-foot-2 guard will be favored to win the SEC's top individual honor again.

But that's something he may want to reconsider. A check of the league's MVPs over the past 10 seasons is more of a Who's Where than a Who's Who. If you were thinking the best players from one of the nation's best leagues would be tearing up the NBA, well, you'd be clanking a jumper off the back of the rim.

From 1975 through 1997, only one SEC MVP was not a first-round pick (Billy McCaffrey, who shared the award with Jamal Mashburn, in 1993). That underscores the fact that recent SEC players of the year haven't had a big impact at the next level.

Here's a look at the past 10 SEC MVPs, only two of whom were NBA first-round picks:

Ansu Sesay, Ole Miss, 1998: Sesay, now 30, was an NBA second-round pick in 1998 but didn't make it into the league until 2001. He played only 127 games in his NBA career and averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds. He has been playing overseas, most recently in Italy.

Chris Porter, Auburn, 1999: Porter, 28, was a second-round pick and played in 51 games in his rookie season with Golden State. He averaged 8.6 points and 3.7 rebounds and hasn't played in the league since. Porter has been playing overseas and recently was named to the Chinese Basketball Association All-Star team.

Stromile Swift, LSU, and Dan Langhi, Vanderbilt, 2000: Swift, 27, was the No. 2 overall pick by Vancouver and remains active in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies. His career averages are a modest 8.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Langhi, 29, was a second-round pick who played only 133 games in the league and averaged 3.0 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.

Tayshaun Prince, Kentucky, 2001: Prince, 27, would have to be labeled king of the past 10 SEC MVPs. A first-round selection by the Detroit Pistons, he remains with the team and was a key cog in their 2003-04 world championship team. His career averages stand at 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, and he has averaged more than 14 points per game in each of the past three seasons. He has played in every Pistons regular-season and postseason game for the past four seasons.

Erwin Dudley, Alabama, 2002: Dudley, 25, went undrafted and has played overseas for the past couple of years, most recently in the Turkish Basketball League. A third-team All-American as a junior, Dudley led the SEC in rebounding for three consecutive seasons.

Ron Slay, Tennessee, 2003: Slay, 25, went undrafted and has played overseas in Turkey, Venezuela and most recently Italy. He also spent some time in the NBA's developmental league with the Asheville Altitude. A popular player in Knoxville, he was a third-team All-American as a senior.

Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State, 2004: Roberts, 24, was a second-round pick by Seattle but was traded to Memphis. He has played in 87 games over the past two seasons with the Grizzlies. He participated in 54 games (with 18 starts) this past season in which he averaged 5.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Brandon Bass, LSU, 2005: Bass, who turns 22 on Monday, was a second-round pick by the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He has played in only 50 games in his career, with four starts. His career averages are 2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. He left LSU after two seasons and is third on the school's career blocked shots list with 104.

Glen Davis, LSU, 2006: Davis, 21, just concluded his junior season and has declared himself available for the NBA Draft. Most mock drafts have "Big Baby" going in the second round. He averaged 17.7 points and 10.4 rebounds as a junior last season. He led the SEC in rebounding for two consecutive seasons.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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