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How St. Bonaventure's Kyle Lofton kept taking his shots on path to NCAA Tournament

St. Bonaventure guard Kyle Lofton shoots against Dayton.
Harry Scull Jr. / Buffalo News
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Reagan didn’t want his basketball players at Union Catholic Regional High School to be confined to the gym or insulated in a basketball bubble, particularly not a point guard who had aspirations of leaving central New Jersey to play college basketball.

Reagan took Kyle Lofton and his teammates to local bowling alleys and to softball diamonds. One afternoon, they went to Topgolf, a driving range and events center in nearby Edison, about 30 miles southwest of New York City.

Lofton took a few practice swings to get acclimated, and began teeing off. Within an hour, he was wailing golf balls over the lit bull's-eyes on Topgolf’s expansive green.

“I don’t know if Kyle had ever golfed before,” said Reagan, Lofton's basketball coach at Union Catholic. “He’s pretty smooth, pretty athletic, so it took him a couple swings to get going. But he got it down in a few minutes.”

Lofton now is a point guard for the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team, and Reagan said Lofton was such a good athlete that he could have picked up and likely excelled at any sport, including golf.

But Lofton was a basketball devotee at heart, someone whom Reagan had to kick out of the gym at Union Catholic. Finally, it got to a point where Reagan just let Lofton continue to shoot, and trusted him to lock up when he was done.

The same thing happened during the year Lofton spent at Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy in 2017-18. The gym was always open, and Putnam coach Tom Espinosa recalls how Lofton always found his way there, sometimes as early as 5:30 in the morning.

“He probably made the right decision about focusing on one sport,” Reagan said. “He’s so passionate about the sport and that fire he has for it.”

Lofton had a goal to play Division I college basketball. While he had size, length and a clear passion for the game, the knock against him was that he couldn’t shoot the ball at a Division I-caliber level. It didn't matter. Lofton just continued to shoot and forge opportunities to play in college.

Lofton, a 6-foot-3 guard, leads St. Bonaventure into the NCAA Tournament. He’s third in the nation in minutes per game (38.2), and leads the Bonnies in scoring (14.6 points per game), assists (5.5 per game) and steals (29).

The ninth-seeded Bonnies (16-4) face No. 8 LSU (18-9) at 1:45 p.m. Saturday in a first-round game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.

“I was talking to my dad and he was telling me that I wasn’t supposed to be here,” Lofton said Wednesday on a video call from Indianapolis. “After high school, I was going on junior college visits, and I was blessed to be found by Putnam Science Academy. It was a life-changing moment for me. We won a national championship and I got looked at for that, from St. Bonaventure.”

Keeping goal in focus
At Union Catholic, Lofton averaged 13 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, yet he had no Division I scholarship offers. But he was not ready to give up on his goal.

“A lot of our guys want to be Division I basketball players,” Reagan said. “We always say, 'You don’t pick the school, the school picks you.' It’s tough sometimes when you know you have the talent, the passion or the desire, and there may not be an offer on the table. Kyle did not pack it in. The prep route, too, is one that more and more athletes are taking, more than they did 10 or 20 years ago when I first started coaching.

“Kyle stepped up to that.”

Lofton graduated from Union Catholic in 2017, and joined Putnam Science Academy, where he lived on his own in a college-type setting. He played on a team that included 13 players who now play at the Division I or II level, including Bona teammate Osun Osunniyi and University at Buffalo forward Josh Mballa.

Putnam played 42 games in 2017-18, roughly four games a week, and Lofton led Putnam in minutes played. He averaged 10 points, six assists and three rebounds, and shot 48%, including 40% on 3-pointers, which, Espinosa said, “is phenomenal for a kid whom someone said can’t shoot.”

Still, Lofton found a way to get into the gym when he had down time to the point where Espinosa had to tell him to rein it back.

“We’d have to tell him, ‘Kyle, you’ve got to rest, you can’t get in here at 6 a.m.,’ ” Espinosa said. “We had to talk to him about how important rest is, and taking care of your body.”

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