Tennessee Eases Transition for French-Speaking Player

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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


KNOXVILLE — Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes made an addition to his staff this past week that will make Yves Pons' transition to college basketball feel, or at least sound, less foreign.

Barnes announced the hiring of Aubin Goporo on Friday to the role of director of player development. Goporo, who spent last season as director of student-athlete development at Louisiana-Lafayette, is fluent in three languages, including French. That should benefit Pons, who will be the Volunteers' first player ever from France.

Pons is the jewel of UT's freshman class, an athletic 6-foot-6 wing with a four-star rating from 247Sports.com and a billing from Barnes as athletic and explosive.

Barnes also praised Pons' character and work ethic when his signing was announced in April. One early test for Pons when he arrives in Knoxville in August will be a language barrier that Tennessee is taking steps to address. Draftexpress.com noted Pons' English to be "very shaky" in a January scouting report.

Assistant coach Michael Schwartz, who recruited Pons, is learning French, and Goporo's addition ensures that someone fluent in both languages will be around the team as Pons learns English.

Goporo's role will extend beyond translator. A news release from the university announcing his hire said Goporo will be a program liaison to the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, coordinate community outreach and serve as a student-athlete mentor. He also will assist with on-campus recruiting efforts.

Goporo spent 15 seasons as the coach at Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla., crossing paths with Barnes in that role before taking the position at Louisiana-Lafayette last season.

Pons is expected to join the Vols in Europe after he plays for France in the 2017 FIBA U18 European Championships July 29-Aug. 6.

The Vols arrive in Spain on Aug. 2 for a 10-day trip that includes three exhibition games.

Pons hasn't had the chance to show his game to Tennessee's staff on American soil yet, but his strengths are well-known. Draftexpress.com noted Pons to be a "physical specimen" and "tremendous leaper in space" with long arms.

At 18, Pons is the youngest of Tennessee's freshmen by more than a year. Forwards Derrick Walker and Zach Kent are each 19 after spending last season at prep schools, while wing player Jalen Johnson redshirted last year. Pons was born in Haiti and has been attending the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education in Paris.

"We're very excited about the addition of Yves because he fits the culture and mentality of our program as a person, student and athlete," Barnes said when Pons signed in April. "We're all very thankful for the trust that he and his wonderful family back in France have placed in us."

Contact David Cobb at [email protected]

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July 2, 2017


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