Tennessee basketball: Fulkerson, Pons among top 101 players, sport network says

CBS named Tennessee basketball Volunteers John Fulkerson and Yves Pons.

Evidence continues to pile up how loaded Tennessee basketball is beyond its top five recruiting class. The two five-star guards who made up that class are nowhere near the biggest headliners on this year’s team entering the 2020-2021 season.

The top 101 players ranked by CBS Sports writers for this year included two senior forwards on the team, returning leading scorer John Fulkerson and reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons. Fulkerson came in at No. 28, and Pons came in at No. 29.

Kyle Boone, Matt Norlander, Gary Parrish and David Cobb compiled the rankings. Tennessee basketball’s two forwards were fifth and sixth among SEC players in these rankings. Here’s what was written about both of them.

After playing a reserve role for a pair of NCAA Tournament teams as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, Fulkerson emerged as one of the best big men in the SEC last season. Now back for his fifth season on campus, the lanky left-hander will be the heart and soul of a team with great potential. — Cobb

The SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20, Pons has gone from being a seldom-used freshman to a key returner for a team ranked 12th in the preseason Top 25 And 1. He averaged 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks last season. — Parrish

Obviously, Fulkerson has turned into a breakout star. He surpassed Jordan Bowden as the go-to scorer once February of last year came, scoring 20 or more points in four of his final 10 games after never hitting that mark in his entire career before then.

At 6’9″ 215 pounds, the fifth-year senior averaged 13.7 points and just under six rebounds a game. Last year was also his first full season as a starter, and since he got better as the year went on, he could be an elite post player this year.

Pons, meanwhile, tested the NBA Draft waters with his defensive abilities this offseason before ultimately deciding to return for his senior season. At 6’6″ 215 pounds, he’s ridiculously athletic, and he’s lived up to what he was recruited to be out of France.

Last year, Pons developed a nice touch as well, shooting 34.9 percent from three and hitting almost one a game. Shooting 63.8 percent from the free throw line was by far a career best for him. If he can cut down on that and his average of more than one and a half turnovers a game, he could become a superstar.

Each of these players is a great development story under Rick Barnes, as they both rode the bench largely in 2017-2018 before showing development off the bench, Pons starting at times, in 2018-2019. Last year, they emerged as reliable players for Tennessee basketball, and despite the elite talent in the backcourt, their veteran leadership could still carry the team.