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Yves Pons dazzles in new role for Tennessee

Really nice to see.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Asheville at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Through one game of Tennessee’s 2019-20 season, the main storyline is clear. Yves Pons was very impressive on Tuesday night against UNC-Asheville, finally looking like the player everyone thought he could be when he arrived in Knoxville as a four-star recruit.

Pons was playing in a new role for Tennessee, playing more as a hybrid power forward. He’s been pressed into that role a bit as the Vols lost four post players from last year’s team. The NCAA’s ruling on seven-foot center Uros Plavsic further cemented Pons’ role in the frontcourt for Tennessee this year.

Through one game? It looks like he was made for this position.

“He’s learning a new position,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “We wish we could’ve done with him a couple years ago what we did with Admiral. Start him inside, move him outside. We had to go the other way with him because of our depth up front the last couple years. So Yves is going the other way, from the outside to the inside. But he works so hard. And I thought he improved a lot from our last exhibition game to right now.”

Pons poured in 15 points for Tennessee against UNC-Asheville. He added seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal — all with zero turnovers in 29 minutes of play. He was 1-2 from three-point range, shooting confidently after regressing in that area last season.

The third year player looked like a legitimate third scoring option for the Volunteers, which is hard to believe after watching Pons last season. Of course, Rick Barnes was left wanting more — as he usually is after any given game.

“We need Yves to rebound,” Barnes said. “I told him I wanted him to get ten. Between him, Fulky and Olivier, those guys can go get it. Our guards can rebound, but at the end, when we were just slopping around out there, we should’ve had three or four rebounds we should’ve gotten and we didn’t. Just because they were wanting to go score and not get the ball first.”

For what it’s worth, Tennessee won the rebounding battle last night 49-29.

Obviously, this is a microscopic sample size for Pons, who has dazzled in certain spots before. Tennessee needs this effort from him night in and night out. His athletic ability in the post is unique, likely making up for his undersized 6-6 frame down low.

Tennessee is going to have to play small this year — we know that. Pons might just end up being the key to making all of it work.