There’s one massive decision lingering around Tennessee basketball ahead of what could be another special season. That decision is set to be made by Yves Pons, who is currently testing the NBA Draft waters. The defensive standout has all the athletic ability in the world, though he’s still developing his offensive game. That last fact might be what keeps him in school for his senior season.
ESPN knows how big of a decision this is. Jeff Borzello ranked Pons’ decision as the 14th most important in all of college basketball. If he does return, Borzello says Tennessee is a top ten team for next season.
While not ranked in ESPN’s top 100 draft rankings, Yves Pons does intrigue some NBA teams. He is a terrific defender, and he made about one 3-pointer per game last season. That said, he should return to Knoxville next season. And if he does, I think Tennessee is a legitimate preseason top-10 team.
Tennessee returns John Fulkerson, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, while adding five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Top 50 prospect Corey Walker will also join the team, along with transfers E.J. Anosike and Victor Bailey Jr. Jordan Bowden and Jalen Johnson are Tennessee’s only losses, pending a decision from Pons.
That returning core took their lumps after being handed the keys to the car following the loss of Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander. Much like the Volunteers in 2016-17, we saw flashes of greatness coupled with plenty of examples of downright ugly basketball. But much like that group from 2016-17, this current group is now battle-tested and ready for the spotlight.
Their defensive upside does hinge on the return of Pons, though. The rising senior moved to a power forward role last season and really blossomed, blocking over two shots per contest for the Volunteers. Tennessee was at its best when Pons was engaged offensively, but far too often he disappeared from that end of the floor. If Pons can take another step forward as an offensive threat, he’s a lock to be drafted next year.
For Tennessee’s sake, Pons returning and taking another step offensively would make the Volunteers downright dangerous, as Borzello points out.
Rick Barnes has guards and playmakers, he has scorers on the wing and he has depth and options up front. But Pons is the type of X factor every Final Four-caliber team needs: Someone who can make plays at both ends of the floor.
Pons has until August 3rd to make his final decision.