Shaw’s Sleepers: Kenneth Lofton Jr. is building his own legacy

Louisiana Tech forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. has evolved into a star worthy of national attention.

Still in uniform, Kenneth Lofton Jr. exits the Louisiana Tech locker room, fresh off career-highs of 36 points and 18 rebounds. The Bulldogs are on a time crunch, having to be at the airport in an hour to fly out of Raleigh-Durham.

Based on the eye test, Lofton is an unlikely basketball superstar. The Louisiana Tech media guide lists the sophomore at 6-7 and 275 pounds, a frame that screams more ‘dad bod’ than USA gold medalist. However, the below-the-rim post player has evolved into a basketball superstar and one of college basketball’s most unguardable players.

“I’m from Texas. I hate this cold weather here.”

—CBB player rankings: Lofton ranks 72nd
—RANKINGS: Top 25 | Mid-major Top 25
—BRACKETOLOGY: Latest field of 68 projections

Lofton’s upbringing

Lofton went to high school in Port Arthur, Texas — a town of 53,000 located 90 miles east of Houston along the Louisiana border. The city has produced numerous NFL talents — including Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson — and other A-listers in Janis Joplin, Stephen Jackson and the rap group UGK.

He was a lightly recruited player coming out of Memorial High School, carrying a handful of mid-major offers. Many programs had questions about his unique game, though, despite his undeniable scoring ability. However, Lofton’s frame and lacking defense caused division within college coaching staffs about how his game would translate.

“I have had a chip on my shoulder since high school,” Lofton told Heat Check CBB after his career performance at NC State. “I didn’t get offered by any high majors really out of high school, so I ended up coming to Louisiana Tech because it was the best fit for me.”

Lofton’s Louisiana Tech legacy

Louisiana Tech has built itself a reputation for producing NBA-caliber bigs, including Hall of Fame power forward Karl Malone and fellow pros Paul Millsap, PJ Brown, Erik McCree and Randy White.

“I talk with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap occasionally,” Lofton said. “NCAA rules won’t let me work out with them, but I stay in touch. They talk to me about the leadership of the team. They both talk about playing against the best and tell me different things to encourage me.”

The Conference USA freshman of the year did not waste much time carving out his own legacy at Louisiana Tech. Lofton averaged 22.8 minutes per game as a freshman while leading the Bulldogs in scoring, rebounds and blocks.

“It is great having a guy who loves ball,” Louisiana Tech men’s basketball coach Eric Konkol said. “He just loves basketball, loves to play, loves his teammates, and he is addicted to getting better. He has always had good feet and hands, but he has worked to develop a lot of different things since he’s been here.”

At 275 pounds, with soft hands and a dancer’s feet, Lofton has proven to be a tough assignment on the block. Lofton moves well, finds his spots on the floor and uses his lower half to seal off players and create angles. He also uses his catching ability to receive entry passes at all angles and shoot from numerous spots on the floor.

Leading the Bulldogs

Louisiana Tech finished second in Conference USA with a 24-8 overall record last season, but it was its run in the NIT where Lofton made his mark. The Bulldogs reached the tournament semifinals with wins over Ole Miss, Western Kentucky and Colorado State.

In four postseason games, Lofton averaged a stellar 20 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 58.8 percent from the field, earning an invite to the Team USA U19 tryouts.

“After my team made the run in the NIT, I got invited to the Team USA,” Lofton said. “I went there just trying to make the team. I made the team, and it felt great being able to represent my country; not too many people get to do that. It was awesome to be able to have that ‘USA’ across my chest.”

Lofton severely downplayed his U19 World Cup performance. One of the final invitees, he wound up leading the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game while playing the fifth-most minutes on the roster. His 16 points in the championship against France helped lead the USA to the gold medal and an 83-81 win.

Over the past eight months, Lofton won a gold medal and was named both Conference USA freshman of the year and an NIT All-Tournament honoree. Needless to say, he entered this season on a mission.

His mission ahead

“A lot of teams wanted me to transfer after USA, but I stuck with Louisiana Tech, where I committed to,” Lofton, Jr. said. “Most of my summer workouts were geared toward getting ready for the NBA. A lot of teams said I need to get in better shape, so I really worked on that. I also worked on all parts of my game; like my coaches say, I got to be the best version of me.”

NC State saw Lofton’s capabilities firsthand this past Saturday.

“He was tremendous; give credit to him,” NC State head coach Kevin Keatts said after the game. “Tough, one of the best posts in the country. He did a tremendous job. What more can we say? Lofton is talented — when they throw him the basketball, it puts pressure on your defense. They put three guys around him who can shoot the ball; he is such a good passer, so we couldn’t double him.”

This year, Lofton joins Iowa’s Keegan Murray and Ohio State’s EJ Liddell as the only three players in D-1 basketball with a player efficiency rating over 36, an offensive box plus/minus over 8.5, and a usage percentage over 29. Last season, Lofton and Scotty Pippen, Jr. were the only two players in D-1 to shoot at least 155 free throws with fewer than 750 minutes played.

“I am an all-around player,” Lofton said. “I can pretty much do anything on the floor. I play every game like it’s my last; that is something my dad always taught me. I just do what my coaches and team need me to do and have fun doing it.”

Every step along the way, Lofton will continue to address questions about his game and whether he’s built for the next level. But at this point in his career, he has done nothing but prove his critics wrong.

Header image courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics.



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