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July 16, 2007

Pan-Am cuts disappointing for SEC talent

Cast your vote: Who do you want taking the big shot for your team?

The surprise of the cuts at the Pan-Am Games tryouts was Chris Lofton of Tennessee.

The 6-foot-2 guard, one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, was among the 18 players trimmed from the roster. Vols coach Bruce Pearl said Monday on a teleconference with SEC coaches that he had spoken with Lofton and the player was not at all shocked.

"He didn't feel like he played well enough to make the team," Pearl said. "They must have based the decision on what they saw in those couple of days.

"Chris said he didn't shoot it well. He actually played better with the ball than without it, and that's not his MO (normal way of operating). He felt other guys played better."

Marquette's Jerel McNeal, another player who was cut, said many of the players had trouble shooting the international balls in the first couple of practices.

Pearl said though Lofton understood why he didn't make the cut, he was disappointed.

"He wanted very much to represent his country and the University of Tennessee," Pearl said. "But he didn't think he played well enough to make the team."

Only one SEC player made the cut, Vanderbilt's Shan Foster. Other SEC players who participated but didn't make it among the 14 finalists (there will be two more cuts before the team leaves for Brazil on Saturday) were LSU's Tasmin Mitchell and Alabama's Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee.

Hendrix and Gee were cut despite the presence of Tide coach Mark Gottfried, who is assisting Villanova's Jay Wright for the U.S. team.

"All of the players played well," said Gottfried, who ducked out of Pan-Am practice to join the SEC teleconference. "Nobody who came up here played poorly. The committee is chaired by (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim. We had input, but it was minimal.

"Sometimes it was just a matter of who they felt could fit together. Chris did well. Our players did well. Shan really shot the ball well and really grabbed their attention. It was competitive. They all did well. Most of them haven't tried out for a team since fifth or sixth grade."

Gottfried said he spent some time consoling the Alabama players.

"I spoke to them that night after they named the 14 finalists," Gottfried said. "I had both of those guys in my hotel room for a long time. They were disappointed. But they both did well. It wasn't a situation where they played poorly. I was very proud of both of them.

"They were disappointed, but they will grow from it."

Gottfried said the Commodores' Foster displayed the skills he has seen plenty of while coaching against him in the SEC.

"I've seen this prior to now, but other coaches have commented on his movement without the basketball," Gottfried said. "His motor has been running at a high level here. The way he's running floor is impressive, and he's defending well. He's done a great job."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings summed it up well from the SEC perspective.

"I encouraged Shan to just be who he is," Stallings said. "Apparently he did that pretty well, because obviously the guys that made it are pretty good and there are some good players who didn't make it."

Cast your vote: Who do you want taking the big shot for your team?

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

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