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Uncertainty shaped Pons’ decision to return for senior year

Photo credit: Allie Suber/RTI

Tennessee senior forward Yves Pons only knew one thing over the last few months — there are no guarantees in 2020.

His options at the NBA level could have been limited due to COVID-19, but so could his opportunities at the collegiate level. Ultimately, he landed on a return to campus for his senior season.

“We did not get any guarantee that they were going to draft me, or anything like that,” Pons said on Wednesday morning. “So, for me that was the only way. Besides workouts, there was no way I could increase my stock. Even if I did, it was my interviews. It did not give me any guarantee that I would be drafted where I wanted.”

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year was a late second-round draft prediction in many mock drafts. He started all 31 games for the Vols and finished the season with 73 blocks, tying C.J. Black for the program’s single-season record.

Pons also considered another route — playing in Europe for a season before returning to the United States to begin an NBA career.

“Yes, that was a serious second option,” Pons said. “Overseas, they know they’re going to play basketball at some point and they’re going to have a season because they have the (COVID-19) cases under control. That was a serious case to consider. Financially, it was a good thing to go play over there.”

The 6-foot-6 wing had a bevy of experience to call upon regarding the NBA process. Three of Pons’ teammates were drafted in 2019.

Grant Williams was taken at No. 22, Admiral Schofield got selected at No. 42 and Jordan Bone was one of the last picks of the draft at No. 57. Kyle Alexander went undrafted, but he signed a two-way contract with the Miami Heat in January.

“I tried to talk to as many people as I could,” Pons said. “I took information from anywhere, so of course I called Grant Williams and we had a good conversation. I talked to Jordan Bone too and tried to talk to Kyle too. They really gave me some feedback because they have different contracts with the NBA.

“They had different perspectives on the NBA, so they really helped me out with this process and I’m thankful for that.”

Those four players spoke highly of Rick Barnes and his support throughout the draft process last year. Pons echoed that sentiment on Wednesday.

“I’m thankful for my coaches and they really supported me throughout the process,” Pons said. “They tried to give me the most information. To me, coming back, there are a lot of things I can work on to get better and put my game on another level.”

Pons said he will be focused on improving his three-point range and his turnaround jumper during his senior season. He also wants to refine his ball-handling skills.

The expectations for the 2020 season are high.

“Last year I got SEC Defensive Player of the Year,” Pons said. “This year, I’m trying to go even higher — National Defensive Player of the Year. This is only personal though. The only goal is the national championship. That’s what I see right now.”

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