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World Series Wildcat

October 14, 2002 Columns No Comments

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

While it was not quite the legendary moment that Bobby Thomson’s famous homer was in 1951, Kenny Lofton’s game-winning, pennant-clinching single in the bottom of the ninth against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2002 will certainly rank up there when you talk about all-time great moments in Giants history.

Although he accomplished this fantastic feat in a Giants uniform, Kenny Lofton will probably be remembered most as a Cleveland Indian over his baseball career.

But for college basketball aficionados, the memories of Lofton are different. It’s not the Indians or Giants uniform they remember Kenny wearing – not the White Sox, Braves, or even the Astros duds Lofton once donned.

It’s the red, white, and blue No. 11 he wore for the Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team.

Before the game-winning hits, the head-first slides, and the acrobatic catches in center field, there were the cross-over dribbles, the quick steals, and even the occasional dunk on the basketball floor. Kenny Lofton played major college basketball for Lute Olson and the Wildcats. A four year player at Arizona, Lofton came to Tucson on a hoops scholarship and didn’t even pay baseball until his junior year. He was an electric dynamo of a player who became well-known for his vertical leap, quickness, and defensive ability – and by the time he graduated in 1989, he held the school records for steals in a single season (67 in 1988-89) and career (200).

His career started slowly at Arizona, as the East Chicago, IN native only averaged 2.4 points a game in 6.8 minutes of playing time as a freshman in 1985-86. But he was quickly promoted to the starting lineup as a sophomore in 1986-87, taking the reins at point guard after Steve Kerr (former Chicago Bull, current San Antonio Spur) injured his knee at the 1986 World Championships. Lofton would average a career-high 6.4 points a game that season. When Kerr returned for his senior year in 1987-88, Lofton returned to the bench, becoming a member of the famous “Gumbies” reserves that spark-plugged the Wildcats that season to their first ever Final Four. He would regain his starting job as a senior in 1988-89, averaging 5.5 points and 4.1 assists a game, helping Arizona to a No. 1 ranking entering the NCAA Tournament. After his collegiate career ended with a last-second loss to UNLV in the Sweet Sixteen, Lofton was overlooked by the NBA in the draft, with his smallish stature – listed as six-feet, he was probably more like 5-9 – no doubt playing a factor.

But Lofton found his niche as a baseball player, where height would not be as much an issue. After first donning a Major League uniform with the Houston Astros in 1991, he moved on to Cleveland where he was a fixture in center field. Whether it was stealing a base or robbing someone of a home run in the outfield, Lofton was a fan favorite and leadoff threat who was seemingly always on the highlight reel. After a one-year stint with the Atlanta Braves in 1997, Lofton returned to the Indians for another four years before landing this season with the Chicago White Sox and getting traded to the San Francisco Giants in mid-season. He has made six All-Star teams during his career, won six Gold Gloves for his defensive work in the outfield, and has stolen over 500 bases and hit just under .300 for his career.

After he helped lead the Cleveland Indians to their first World Series in 41 years in 1995, Kenny Lofton joined Tim Stoddard (North Carolina State/Baltimore Orioles) as the only players to ever play in a Final Four and a World Series.

But there’s a major difference between Lofton and Stoddard’s rare double. Stoddard won a World Series ring with the Orioles in 1983. Lofton already missed out his first chance with the Indians in 1995. And thanks to his timely hit, he’ll get another shot at it in 2002.

Kenny Lofton might have never reached the NBA, but he’d probably say that he’s happy the way things have worked out.

The Giants no doubt are.

Kenny Lofton’s career stats at Arizona:

        MIN   FG%  3PT%   FT%  RPG  APG  TPG  BPG  SPG   PPG
85-86   6.8  45.0        46.2  0.5  0.6  0.6  0.1  0.6   2.4
86-87  26.2  38.9  35.6  75.4  2.0  3.3  1.6  0.3  1.8   6.4
87-88  15.2  53.4  39.7  53.8  1.2  2.1  1.4  0.1  1.6   4.7
88-89  22.9  38.5  36.7  69.4  1.8  4.1  1.8  0.1  2.0   5.5
TOTALS 17.9  43.3  37.0  65.1  1.4  2.6  1.4  0.1  1.6   4.8

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