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Pons named to Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year watch list

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Vols senior forward Yves Pons was named to the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year watch list on Thursday, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced.

Pons was one of 50 players named to the list. He was one of six SEC players.

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.

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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.

The Vols return nine scholarship players from last year’s team that went 17-14 in the regular season and 9-9 in SEC play. Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Jalen Johnson are the only departures. Bowden and Turner graduated, while Johnson ultimately transferred to Wake Forest as a graduate transfer.

Tennessee returns 67.7 percent of its scoring from a season ago with Pons back in the mix, according to UT basketball SID Tom Satkowiak. The Vols also return 69.7 percent of their rebounding production, 85.6 percent of their blocked shots, 66.1 percent of their steals, 68.7 percent of their minutes played and 71.6 percent of their starts.

Five-star combo-guard signee Jaden Springer and fellow five-star guard signee Keon Johnson are expected to have a significant impact on the Vols this season. Four-star power forward signee Corey Walker has also impressed since stepping foot on campus.

Tennessee is scheduled to begin its season on Nov. 25 against Charlotte as part of a three-team event it’ll host in Knoxville. The Vols will then play VCU on Nov. 27.

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