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Rick Barnes talks Yves Pons’ progress

Barnes loves this guy.

Tennessee Basketball Yves Pons Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

One of Tennessee’s biggest recruits from the 2017 recruiting class was also one of the greatest unknowns for the Vols last season. Everyone saw the highlight film dunks from Yves Pons, but we didn’t see much else. As it turns out, the Paris, France native proved to be pretty raw in his freshman campaign at Tennessee.

The 6-5 swing man didn’t see much action in the first half of the season, but head coach Rick Barnes made a point to get Pons time on the floor down the stretch of Tennessee’s run to an SEC regular season title. In fact, Pons appeared in each of Tennessee’s final 18 games after seeing action in just six of the first 17 game of the season.

That’s probably due to flat-out hard work, which we know Rick Barnes covets in his players. Barnes is clearly happy with the work Pons has been putting in since the season ended in March.

“If it has to do with determination, (Pons) will make a big step,” Barnes told the media at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Nashville. “Arguably, he’s been in the gym more than any player this spring.”

Pons battled through an ankle injury at the beginning of the season. That could have played a part in his slow start. When he got on the floor, his presence wasn’t felt on the stat sheet. It was his energy. He scored no more than four points in a game all season long, but down the stretch he offered some athleticism off the bench for Tennessee. Pons was able to provide a spark on a couple of different occasions with defense and his ability to attack the rim.

“He’s home right now, but he’s working really hard on shooting. He and Jalen Johnson have a big opportunity to really contribute this year,” Barnes said.

There’s no doubt that Pons needs to develop his outside shot. He could even take a similar route to that of Admiral Schofield. The raw athletic ability is there, the Tennessee staff just has to mold and develop it.

With likely another year behind Schofield, Pons could use this season as a springboard to bigger things as a junior in 2019-20. For now though, it sounds like Barnes is planning on Yves being a key piece in the rotation. His development during this season will be key for Tennessee’s future.