By Dan Fleser
KNOXVILLE – Tennessee and Yves Pons announced in two languages on Monday that he will return for his senior season of basketball rather than enter the NBA Draft.
The graphic of UT’s social media post said “Je Reviens” in Pons’ native French language. He retweeted the post and added accompanying text in English that was equally brief and to the point: “I’m back.”
Pons had until Monday to withdraw his name from the draft after retaining his collegiate eligibility throughout the evaluation process.
“Today is a great day,” UT teammate Uros Plavsic said via Twitter.
Pons, who became the first Tennessee player last season to be named SEC defensive player of the year, made himself into a pro prospect by becoming more fluent in offense. The 6-foot-6 athletic wing managed a stunning offensive transformation during his junior season. After averaging 2.2 points per game as a sophomore, his scoring average blossomed to 10.8 points per game.
Pons shot 48.9 percent from the floor and extending his shooting range as well, hitting 30 3-pointers and shooting 34.9 percent from long range. Jordan Bowden and Santiago Vescovi were the only Vols to make more treys than Pons. They had 49 and 36 respectively. Josiah Jordan-James (36.7 percent) and Vescovi (36) were the only UT players to shoot a better percentage from long range.
Tennessee’s season was ended prematurely by the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the NBA’s pre-draft process was altered significantly. Pons was in line for an invite to the NBA Combine in May but the event was postponed indefinitely. The draft eventually was rescheduled for Oct. 16.
Rather than work out for teams in person, Pons was limited to virtual meetings as the league was shut down for more than four months.
Along with considering his basketball future, Pons showcased another side of his play this spring in a video that showed him playing George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” on the saxophone in Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park. In this case, the accompanying text read “just an absolute force of nature.”
Pons has been a force on defense since arriving at UT from Fuveau, France. His offensive transformation notwithstanding, the Vols arguably will benefit most from another season of his defensive presence. He had a program single-season record 73 blocks last season. Many of them were thunderous in nature.
His flair for blocks likely will be a more practical asset this season. The Vols will be deeper and have more scoring potential on the perimeter this season with the addition of such standouts as Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. But their inexperience and UT’s style of play might result in defensive breakdowns that will place a greater premium on Pons’ defensive skill set.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.