ELIZABETHTOWN — Looking dapper in blue suit and bow tie, Chris Lofton furrowed his brow when contemplating a query.
At 28, is he old enough to be going into a Hall of Fame?
"That's what I'm thinking," the former Mason County star said with a big smile. "I guess I am."
The Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame inducted 16 new members (see list on Page B2) Saturday night, the third part of what, by 2018, will be its "Centennial Class" of 100. Gathered at The State Theater in downtown Elizabethtown were some legendary names from decades back in the long, rich history of high school hoops in the commonwealth.
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Frank Ramsey from the 1940s. Vernon Hatton from the '50s. Jack Givens from the '70s.
Conversely, it seems only yesterday that Lofton was lighting up Rupp Arena with 39 points to lead Mason County past Ballard in the 2003 Sweet Sixteen championship. The next year, he took Mason back to the state title game, only to see the Royals fall to Warren Central in the championship.
"When you bring that 2004 game up, it still hurts a little bit," Lofton said, tapping a hand across his heart. "But I'll never forget that 2003 state championship. When your closest friends, the kids you've grown up with, are right there with you on the court winning that state title with you, there was not a greater feeling."
There was a heavy Lexington flavor to Saturday night's Hall of Fame festivities.
Givens, the star of Kentucky's 1978 NCAA championship team, scored 41 points in the finals victory over Duke. He went on to play in the NBA. Yet he said one of his great sports regrets is that he could not take Bryan Station to the Kentucky high school state championship. In 1972, Givens and Bryan Station lost in the state semifinals. Two years later, Givens and the Defenders fell in the quarterfinals.
"I think back, one of the things I would have liked to accomplish was a state championship," Givens said. "There can't be anything better than that if you live in the state of Kentucky."
Hatton, the star of Kentucky's 1958 NCAA championship, did feel the exhilaration of a state title. He was a junior guard for Lafayette when it won the 1953 state crown for legendary Generals Coach Ralph Carlisle.
As famously demanding as Adolph Rupp was as a coach, Hatton said Carlisle was tougher to please.
"Coach Rupp, if we won by one point, he was the happiest coach in the world since we won," Hatton said. "But (at Lafayette) if we won by 10 points or 20 points, Carlisle was mad and thought we ought to have won by 30. He was never happy with a win. He wanted more."
Al Prewitt, the longtime Henry Clay coach, was one of three coaches inducted. Prewitt and the Blue Devils won the 1983 state championship over Carlisle County 35-33 in three overtimes.
As crazy as it might sound given the score, it was one of the most exciting basketball games I've ever seen.
"I watched that game before I came up here because I thought someone would ask me about it," Prewitt said. "I never sat through anything like it in my life. I can tell you, it wasn't exciting sitting there going through it."
The goal of the High School Hall of Fame is to have 100 members by 2018 — the 100-year anniversary of the boys' Sweet Sixteen. With the third class, 49 of those names are now known.
Interestingly, Lofton, Kentucky's 2004 Mr. Basketball, was inducted in the same class as Crystal Kelly, the 2004 Miss Basketball, who led Sacred Heart Academy to three straight state championships (2002-04). "We hadn't seen each other since then," Kelly said.
If the high school part of Lofton's hoops career was the ultimate Kentucky basketball fairy tale, the college part did not play out in a Hollywood manner. After neither Kentucky nor Louisville offered him a scholarship, Lofton went to Tennessee — where he became a star.
"I always wanted to stay in the state of Kentucky, (play for) Louisville or Kentucky," Lofton said "But, sometimes, things don't work out the way you planned. You've just got to roll with the flow. Tennessee wound up being a great spot for me."
Since his UT career ended, Lofton has mostly played basketball overseas. He recently signed a new contract with Besiktas of the Turkish Basketball League.
"Istanbul is a big city," Lofton said. "I'm learning a little bit of the language, but a lot of people speak English."
When he goes back to Turkey, Lofton will go as a Hall of Famer.
A young one.
"It seems surreal," he said. "But it's a true blessing."