Aug. 3 was a long and tumultuous day for Tennessee basketball. On one of college basketball’s biggest days of the year, the deadline for prospects to remove their name from the NBA Draft and return to school, Vol fans wait was the longest as Yves Pons mulled the decision over.
It was a day that included a report Pons was returning to school, followed by a quick “maybe not.” The waiting was well worth it for Tennessee coaches and fans alike, as Pons elected to return for his senior season.
“On the morning of the deadline I did not know what I was going to do because I was still getting some feedback from my agent and the NBA,” Pons said. “It was hard to make a decision ahead of that so that’s why we waited until the deadline”
“The process was really hard, on top of making a decision. There were some days where I wanted to come back and some days where felt like it was time for me to go. There was a lot of ups and downs in terms of deciding."
COVID-19 made a difficult decision for Pons even harder, adding uncertainty to the draft process and what his first professional season would look like.
The NBA Draft would be pushed back four months, players weren’t allowed to work out in front of scouts, the NBA Combine -- which Pons received an invite to -- was pushed back after the deadline to make a decision and the G-League's look for next season all created uncertainty for Pons.
“It was hard to know if there was going to be an NBA G-League or not, because they did not mention the G-League at all,” Pons said. “For guys like me, who would spend some of my rookie year in the G-League, it was hard to know where I would develop my game.”
“They told me I’d spend a lot of time practicing with the team and stuff, but at the end of the day, we need to play basketball. We didn’t have any guarantee that they were going to draft me … without workouts there was no way to increase my stock.”
One part of the draft process that went on despite COVID-19 was interviews.
Pons said he was able to meet with around 15 different NBA coaches, discussing topics from Pons’ past in Europe to parts of his game to work on.
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year said coaches told him he needed to show more consistency with his 3-point shooting and improvement in his ball handling, while comparing his game to former Rick Barnes forward P.J. Tucker.
Tucker is far from the only player Barnes has put in the NBA and Pons took advantage of that, talking to his former Tennessee teammates now in the NBA or G-League about their experiences.
“I took information from anywhere, so of course I called Grant Williams,” Pons said. “We had a good conversation. I talked to Jordan Bone too and tried to talk to Kyle [Alexander] too. They really gave me some feedback because they have different contracts with the NBA. They had different perspectives on the NBA, so they really helped me out with this process and I'm thankful for that."
As a France native, the idea of playing professionally overseas seemed like a possible middle ground for Pons throughout the draft process. Pons gave legitimacy to that idea, due to the decline of COVID-19 in Europe.
“That was a serious second option,” Pons said. “Obviously with the COVID-19 here — in the other countries, they have it under control with less cases. Overseas, they know they're going to play basketball at some point and they're going to have a season because they have the cases under control. That was a serious case to consider. Financially, it was a good thing to go play over there."
It took a lot of waiting and there was more involved than most might realize, but Yves Pons will play his final season at Tennessee. No one inside Pratt Pavilion is complaining.