KNOXVILLE — Yves Pons put in the work.
Now he's getting the results.
Perhaps no college basketball player in the country has taken the strides on the offensive end of the court shown by Tennessee's 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward, who has averaged 16.3 points on 68% shooting from the field for the 20th-ranked Volunteers (3-0), who host Alabama State (0-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Already an athletic specimen, Pons has always shot a respectable percentage while at Tennessee, if for no other reason than a vast majority of his attempts were dunks. But as his confidence level has soared, his range has expanded.
In the Vols' opener against UNC Asheville, it was a turnaround jumper over a defender that demonstrated his progress. He made a trio of 3-pointers against Murray State and attempted a career-high 13 shots against Washington last Saturday in Toronto. He made seven of those shots, with most coming in the paint as he and other Tennessee players consistently found a weak spot in the middle of the Huskies' zone defense.
After making only seven 3-pointers in 2018-19, Pons has five makes at a 63% clip. He has attempted at least two 3s in every game this season; last year there were 27 games he attempted two or fewer total shots in a game. Last season he didn't attempt a 3-pointer in the final 10 games, didn't take a shot in the last four and didn't take more than two in a game after facing Vanderbilt on Feb. 19.
But Pons got into the gym in the offseason and worked on his game. A lot.
Vols coach Rick Barnes — a known developer of players — signed Pons with the knowledge there was work that needed to be done. The junior from France has put in the work to make himself a quality option for his team, and it's paying off.
"He's as hard a worker as we've had," Barnes said recently. "He's gone through a lot. He's a guy where in the past he's played defense and rebounded in a secondary role. We told him he's going to have to play a much different role. He's embraced that."
The growth of Pons began with the shot of Pons. It came down to the specifics of his form, which has changed tremendously during his time in Knoxville. And it wasn't just the form of his shot; Barnes spent a lot of time last season trying to work on the form of his passing, which too often included making them from his hip.
But now the shot is different. And the results dictate that.
"It didn't take a lot of work," Pons said. "I really just had to do the work early, so I worked on keeping the ball high on every shot.
"I work on it a lot. Every day I'm working on it so I feel comfortable shooting and I'll take every open shot I get. Working on my shot and just finding that consistency working on it every day helped me a lot."
The result is a forward who averaged 1.6 points per game now shooting with a level of confidence not seen before and performing like a completely different player.
"I think his ability — with the way they play with all the screening actions — his ability in that trail spot to hit those 3s can really put you in some tough spots," Murray State coach Matt McMahon said last week. "Watching tape last year, you knew he played hard and (he's) a monster athlete, but he just seems so much more dangerous with his skill set and his ability to make plays."
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