Mississippi College to induct Brookhaven native into Hall of Fame class

Published 3:06 pm Thursday, April 18, 2024

By Bruce Coleman
Communications Specialist

CLINTON — As head coach of the Mississippi College basketball team in the middle aughts, Don Lofton ’78, ’83 had an incredibly successful run from 2003-06. Lofton’s teams average 23 wins a year during those four seasons, including two American Southwest Conference Championships.

The 2005-06 season proved MC’s best. Lofton guided the Choctaws to a school-record 29-2 record, including the team’s second consecutive appearance in the “Sweet 16” Round of the NCAA Tournament. His team was the highest-ranked squad in the NCAA South Region rankings throughout the entire season.

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Soon after the academic year ended, Lofton did a remarkable thing. He approached MC’s athletic director, legendary head basketball coach Mike Jones, and convinced him to take over the team.

“After that record-breaking season, my assistant coach, Kenny Bizot, who is now MC’s athletic director, left to become a high school head coach,” Lofton said. “Once I talked Mike Jones out of retirement, I became his assistant coach.

“I was an assistant coach for 20-plus years and was very comfortable in that position. We had an outstanding relationship and we had a lot of success working together. I felt we could do something really special if he came back and took over.”

The unselfish gambit paid off. The following season, the Choctaw men’s hoopsters continued their winning tradition, notching a sterling 27-3 mark.

“I enjoyed being the head coach,” Lofton said, “but I probably enjoyed being Mike Jones’ assistant more.”

It wouldn’t be the last time Lofton voluntarily took a backseat to Jones. Years later, he inherited the program again from Jones after the MC A.D. had experienced some health challenges. When those issues resolved, current MC President Blake Thompson asked Lofton if he would consider moving back to the assistant coach role under Jones.

“I told Dr. Thompson immediately that I didn’t need to consider it – I’d love to do it,” Lofton said. “As a coach, I always tried to set an example both on and off the floor for the players to follow. I think Coach Jones and I ran a first-class program together and we produced some high-character kids.”

McKinion and Lofton will be among eight highly regarded former student-athletes to be honored during the MC Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. General admission tickets cost $40 each or $250 for a reserved table of six.

A retired Panther

Before retiring last June, Lofton had been a part of the MC men’s basketball program for 39 years, including 15 seasons as head coach. Ironically, he never played a single minute of the sport in high school of college.

The Brookhaven High School product loved basketball, but his natural talents leaned more toward football and golf. Upon graduation, his father, Charles, an MC graduate who once served on the Board of Trustees, laid out his options: Don could go to any college he wanted, but he and his mother, also an MC grad, would send their son to Mississippi College.

“They were two of my biggest fans,” Lofton said. “I was smart enough to take that offer.”

At MC, Lofton played golf and football – “I was the largest left-footed kicker in the country,” he said – and through his athletic pursuits, got to know Doug Hines, the head basketball coach. After earning his degree in business administration, Lofton decided to give coaching a whirl. Hines hired him as a graduate assistant.

Lofton spent two years learning the ins and outs of coaching basketball while pursuing a master’s in physical edication at MC. An opportunity to serve as head basketball coach at West Jones High School beckoned, so he left MC for Soso, Mississippi. When a full-time assistant coaching spot opened up at MC four years later, Lofton returned to his alma mater.

It was a relationship that lasted almost four decades.

“I like the college atmosphere and being a coach on the college level,” he said. “As much as anything, I liked the challenge of trying to do well. I learned from two of the best: Doug Hines and Mike Jones.”

He served as assistant coach for both, involving himself in every facet of the sport and discovering one of his many strengths: recruiting.

“I enjoyed going out and looking for players,” he said. “I learned a long time ago that to be a really good coach, you need really good players. We tried to get kids who were the best fit for our team and the best match for Mississippi College.

“I like to think we had some success doing that, and that’s why we were succvessful.”

Good players – and good chemistry between coaches. It seemed the leadership duo of Jones and Lofton couldn’t be beat.

“Jones actually played basketball at Mississippi College and served as a graduate assistant, like I was,” Lofton said. “I just got to know him and ended up in a really great relationship with him. I enjoyed working with him. He was very successful, and I learned a lot from him about basketball and life in general.

“He became a really good friend and still is to this day.”

Little regret

Lofton’s only regret from his long tenure at MC was not winning the big one, a national championship.

“I wish we could have won a national championship,” Lofton said. “We knocked on the door – we won a lot of conference championships, went to the NCAA Tournament multiple times, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen three times. I hate that we didn’t win it. We were close, but we didn’t get that done.”

He finished his career as an assistant to Randy Bolden, the current men’s head basketball coach. He considers enshrinement in the Mississippi College Athletics Hall of Fame – next to Jones – the ideal culmination to his long career journey.

“I’ve spent over 15,000 days at Mississippi College as a student and as a coach,” he said. “The 20th of April will be the day that will mean the most to me of all those days. You always want to be recognized, and this is a great way to go out – joining the MC Athletics Hall of Fame.”

He and his wife, Madelyn, have remained in Clinton since Lofton began his coaching career at Mississippi College. They will welcome their children – older son, Davis, an MC graduate, and his wife, Jennifer; younger son, Jay, an MC graduate, and his wife, Rachel; and daughter, Elizabeth, an MC graduate – and Lofton’s sisters – Linda Ballard, Beth Case, Laurie Davidson – to the Hall of Fame ceremony.

“It’s a great honor and something that obviously I will always cherish,” Lofton said.