A String of Golden Moments for ‘Junior’
A String of Golden Moments for Junior
Sundays in July for sports information directors are as mellow as they come.
For me, I’m typically hooking golf balls into trees, building lego structures with my kiddos and spending far too much time trying to find something to watch on Netflix. On top of that, there is the Sunday tradition of having dinner at my parents house.
Basically, anything and everything non-work related. Because it’s the offseason after all.
Not on July 11 though.
That particular day will go down as my busiest summer workday ever (and could very well crack my top 10 busiest in my nine years of promoting Louisiana Tech Athletics).
Why you ask? Because of one man. One zero-star basketball recruit with too much baby fat for some programs that over the course of a freshman year in Ruston as a Bulldog (and one international tournament), turned into a Global Phenom.
Kenneth Lofton, Jr.
As the SID for the LA Tech Men’s Basketball program, often times the first question colleagues and media memebers ask me about Junior … Is he kin to the six-time Major League Baseball All-Star, Kenny Lofton?
I reply with a small chuckle and a quick no.
The next question … How does he do the things he does at his size?
I tend to shrug my shoulders at this one because I too have no idea.
For 32 games this past season, I got a front row seat to the 6-foot-7, 275-pound power forward – strong emphasis on the power – with Kung Fu Panda hands and ballerina feet.
He never just called for the basketball in the post … he demanded it. He would size up his defender, deciding which of a hundred low-post moves he wanted to score with. He carved out space with his big body and used his incredible touch and feel around the hoop. He was tenacious on the glass, a smooth passer out of the block and a sneaky-good defender.
Every time he touched the rock, I would get on the edge of my seat, refusing to get distracted by my surroundings because I knew something may very well happen that I have never seen before.
And that’s Junior.
My favorite memories of his freshman year include the following (in chronological order) –
1 – Wowing those purple and gold folks in Baton Rouge after dropping a double-double IN THE FIRST HALF.
2 – Getting switched onto North Texas’ star point guard Javion Hamlet (former C-USA Player of the Year) and locking him up defensively on the perimeter.
3 – Seeing him outduel UAB’s 7-foot transfer from Clemson Trey Jemison in the TAC with a 21-point, 12-rebound performance.
4 – Facing up his Ole Miss defender on the baseline before hitting him with the crossover and the blow-by.
5 – Deflecting a pass to WKU’s All-American center Charles Bassey only to leave him in his dust as he broke away for the fastbreak, rim-rockin’ slam.
6 – And of course, taking on three defenders as he knifed through the lane for the game-winning bucket to defeat Colorado State in the NIT consolation game.
Now let’s circle back to July 11 when I added my seventh favorite moment of Junior’s.
Instead of being there live for this one, I was pacing in my living room, anxiously wearing down my fingernails as I watched Junior and Team USA battle France in the finals of the FIBA U19 World Cup held across the pond in Latvia.
And it was a BATTLE.
With the USA’s back against the ropes, and while playing on a team with the top high school recruit in the country and playing against one of the top international recruits (who was 7-foot-2 by the way), Junior stole the show.
The Everyman, yet again, turned into Superman. Only this time the world was watching.
He recorded a team-high 16 points (15 in the second half) to go along with seven rebounds, two assists and one steal in the 83-81 come-from-behind victory.
It was the final two-plus minutes of the game that really summed up Junior’s amazement. Up three, he flashed in the center of the paint, received the pass, then bullied his way through his 245-pound defender for the bucket.
On France’s next possession, Junior switched onto their quick-twitched point guard who probably had no idea he was about to get his ball taken away by some of the quickest hands to ever come out of Port Arthur, Texas.
That deflection led to a fastbreak dunk for the USA. Then finally, clinging to a two-point lead in the closing seconds, Junior outhustled every Frenchmen for a loose ball rebound to help run out the clock.
The low-post highlight clips and the images of Junior donning a gold medal around his neck and his country’s flag draped over his shoulders flooded the internet.
The ensuing hours had a NASCAR-like pace for me, writing a story worthy of Junior’s golden performance. Posting videos and images at breakneck speed while being glued to every social media channel. Retweeting and reposting all of the notoriety coming his way.
The buzz lasted long into that Sunday night, even as I rewatched the game because it was THAT good.
That wall of accomplishments is filling up fast for Junior. Conference USA Freshman of the Year. All-Conference USA. NIT All-Tournament Team. Gold medalist (“And the real MVP,” said Chet Holmgren who was the actual MVP).
And oh by the way, Junior has done all of this as an 18-year old.
My biggest accomplishment at 18 was converting a National Video into a Blockbuster. We all know how that turned out.
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