Pons named to Julius Erving Award Watch List

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    Photo by Kenny Richmond/RTI

    Tennessee forward Yves Pons has been named to the 2020-21 Julius Erving Award Watch List, the College Basketball Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday.

    The award is presented annually to the best small forward in men’s college basketball.

    “Julius Erving could jump, run, shoot, score, dunk, play defense, rebound, and fill arena seats everywhere he played,” the Hoophall Awards writes in its description of the award. “He attended the University of Massachusetts and averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds per game, making him one of only six NCAA men’s basketball players to average more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game. After two seasons, Erving made the jump to the American Basketball Association and was the league’s most recognizable player when it merged with the National Basketball Association in 1976.

    “‘Dr. J’s’ game of in-your-face hoops appealed to everyone and he made the game cool to play and to watch. During his sixteen scintillating seasons in both the ABA and NBA, Erving redefined the forward position. Flamboyant and artistic — opponents knew where Dr. J was zooming, but few could stop his offensive assault. Playing above the rim, Erving popularized being airborne. His style and grace both on and off the court led many to call him an American treasure. A two-time ABA MVP, Erving led the New York Nets to two ABA championships. In 1976, Erving moved to the NBA and became a Philadelphia 76er. In 1983, he led the 76ers to the NBA championship. His unique athleticism coupled with his star power made Dr. J a household name worldwide.”

    Pons was one of three SEC players named to the watch list. He was joined by Florida’s Keyontae Johnson and Kentucky’s Brandon Boston Jr.

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    The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year announced on April 25 that he was declaring for the NBA Draft. He did not sign with an agent at the time in order to leave open the possibility of returning to school, which he ultimately decided to do on Aug. 3. Pons was one of 105 players invited to the NBA Draft Combine.

    Pons enjoyed a breakout season in 2019-20 with the Vols. He went from averaging just 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 28 percent from three as a sophomore, to averaging 10.8 points and 5.4 rebounds while making 34.9 percent of his threes as a junior. He finished third on the team in scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting percentage.

    The 6-foot-6 native from France tied a school record for most blocks in a season by accumulating 73 in 31 games. That mark tied CJ Black’s single-season mark, and Pons’ 2.36 blocks per game finished as the second-best average in a single season in school history, trailing only Black’s 2.52 per game in that same 1997-98 campaign.

    Along with winning the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year award for his defensive performance, Pons was also named to the 2020 All-SEC Defensive Team. He was the first Vol ever to be named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and just the third Vol to make the SEC All-Defensive Team.

    Pons signed with Tennessee out of the INSEP (National Institute of Sport and Physical Education) Academy in Paris. He was considered one of the top-10 international prospects at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships in Zaragoza, Spain.

    As a freshman in 2017-18, Pons saw action in 24 games off the bench, playing an average of 5.2 minutes per game. Pons then appeared in 35 games with 13 starts as a sophomore in 2018-19. He shot .516 from the field. 15 of his 32 field goals on the season were dunks.

    Pons is the ninth scholarship player returning from last year’s team that went 17-14 in the regular season and 9-9 in SEC play. He’s the team’s second-leading returning scorer, and the third-leading returning rebounder.

    Tennessee’s schedule for the season has not yet been confirmed. According to a report from Jeff Goodman of Stadium, the Vols are likely to begin their season on Nov. 25 against Charlotte as part of a three-team event they’ll host in Knoxville. Tennessee would also play VCU on Nov. 27.