While most of the nation's attention on sports is focused on the NFL Draft, there is news out of Knoxville involving the NBA Draft. Tennessee junior forward Yves Pons has announced he will enter his name in the NBA Draft. This news was first reported by Jeff Goodman of Stadium. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year brings the size and athleticism that is covered by NBA front offices. Much as he has done for the Vols, Pons brings the ability to defend multiple positions and to help offensively. Just how Pons stacks up on NBA boards remains to be seen.
Pons arrived at Tennessee from Paris as a 6’6” 210 pound small forward with an incredible wingspan and jaw dropping athletic ability. Pons made an early impact with Tennessee by showing the ability to be an excellent on-ball defender on multiple positions. Offensively, Pons had some growing to do, but as a freshman, he used his athleticism to run the break and score on highlight reel dunks. As a sophomore, Pons saw his role increase as a sophomore, earning some starts and a significant role with one of the best teams in college basketball. Pons expanded his ability to defend as a sophomore, becoming a guy that Rick Barnes was able to throw at any opposing scorer that he needed to have slowed down. Pons was able to foil smaller guards with his height and long arms, while staying in front of them with his quickness. Against taller scorers, Pons used his leaping ability and length to challenge and block shots even against much bigger post players. What limited the minutes allocated to Pons as a sophomore was a limited offensive game, primarily on fast breaks and dunks.
Between his sophomore and junior season, Pons played with the French Under 21 National Team. Pons worked in the off season with his nation's team before returning to Knoxville to work with Barnes and the Vols. When Pons came on the floor as a junior, he had a thicker, more muscular frame. The added muscle was complimented by an expanded offensive game, where Pons flashed a solid three-point shot, a reliable mid-range shot, and the same incredible dunks and finishes he had shown his first two years on campus. Pons showed the ability to be a scorer that the Vols could rely on, developing a post game on offense to work and finish opposite John Fulkerson, and to grab rebounds and put them back in big moments. He also made some timely threes for Tennessee in big games. As much as he stepped forward on offense, Pons also took a huge step forward defensively. The Vols were left without a true center for much of the season, and especially on defense, Pons played the role of a rim defender, and an elite one at that. He tied the school record for blocks without playing in the SEC Tournament or beyond. Pons showed the ability to be Tennessee's defensive anchor in the post, his length, incredible leaping ability, and defensive awareness allowing him to block, contest, and alter shots of quality post players much larger than him. Pons also was able to switch off and guard any position on the floor. His defensive presence and ability to effectively guard one through five allowed Pons to become the first ever Volunteer to be named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Unlike the NFL Draft, it is important to remember that players have the option to go through the NBA Combine and Draft Process, and still withdraw their names and return to school. Admiral Schofield did exactly that after his junior season before electing to return to Tennessee as a senior. This allows the players to evaluate their draft stock, see where they might go, work out with and around NBA teams, learn the process, hear what NBA scouts want to see them improve, and potentially return to finish their collegiate careers. Pons is without a doubt an NBA level athlete, and would arrive at that level as one of the better defenders in the league. The questions will revolve around the development of his offensive game and how consistent it can become. If Pons chooses to remain in the NBA Draft, the Vols will lose their defensive anchor and a valuable post presence on both ends of the floor. Defenders, athletes, and teammates like Pons are not easy to come by, even at a program like Tennessee. There is still a fair chance Pons could return to Knoxville, but as of now, the Vols will be working out the possibility that the career of the man teammates call Air France has finished in Orange and White.