Transcript: John Fulkerson and Yves Pons talk Senior Day, reflect on UT careers

Yves Pons & John Fulkerson / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee basketball seniors Yves Pons and John Fulkerson met with the media on Wednesday to preview the Vols senior day matchup with Florida.

Yves Pons

On his final game at Thompson-Boling Arena:
“It’s a big day in my life. My last game in TBA, and I’m excited to play Florida too. It’s been an amazing four years and I’m going to miss playing in TBA.”

On memories from playing at UT:
“It’s been an amazing four years since I’ve been here. I got everything I wanted and it was a great experience. I got much better in basketball and my skills, and I had the chance to meet amazing people. It’s amazing, I’m from another country so it’s a new culture and new language, so that was a fun experience.”

On what he is working on towards the postseason:
“The main thing that we’re focusing on is we’re here to compete, here to win, here together as a team to find a chemistry. We’re trying to win, trying to execute, trying to get back to the team that we know we can be and we’re trying to play the way we had at the beginning of the season.”

On how much he changed over four years:
“As a player I am much more confident and I know what I need to do on the court. I can shoot the ball way better than I used to and I have put every part of my game on another level since my freshman year.”

On memories from his first visit to campus:
“I had never seen anything like this before. Everything was bigger, it was kind of like a tv show I had been watching. When I first stepped on the campus, it was amazing because it didn’t feel real, and seeing the arena with 22,000 seats? I had only played in an arena with like 5,000, so it was just amazing to see.”

On the ups and downs of the past six weeks and how important it is to turn it around and this is Pons last go around:
“We still have a long way to go. We have to focus on the next game and treat the postseason like it’s a new season. We have to step it up and come together as a group and play our best basketball because it’s almost over. We have to give it everything we’ve got so we can achieve our goals.

On his demeanor:
“I’m not a real expressive guy. I observe and keep things to myself most of the time. I’m not just going to say it, I’m going to do it as well. I’m going to talk to the coaches and a few guys to figure it out and fix it.”

On how long it took to adjust to living in America since Pons is a native of France:
“It took almost a year and a half. In the middle of my sophomore year, it happened gradually, and since I came late and missed most of summer camp, and had to adjust to the language. The basketball here is different from European basketball so it took me a while to adjust.”

John Fulkerson

On his emotions going into Senior Day on Sunday:
“I think that my emotions are kind of sad that it could potentially be, maybe, my last home game at Tennessee. It’s definitely sad that it could be my last game, but it’s also a good time because it makes me look back at all the memories I’ve had here, all the relationships I’ve made and just my teammates, my coaches, the memories, the friendships, hanging out. It just makes me look back and think of all the times that I’ve done that and all the memories that I’ve made.”

On decision for next year and possibility of returning:
“Have I made a decision yet? Not yet. Am I thinking about returning? Of course. It’s hard to pass up this institution, this basketball program, these coaches, my teammates, the university. And so absolutely I’m thinking about returning. Have I made a decision yet? No. Am I open for suggestions? Yes. But right now, I’m just focused on getting better as a team and our current team right now. I’m not focused on me individually right now. It’s about us as a team, playing our best to beat Florida on Sunday.”

On memories of getting recruited by Tennessee and Coach Barnes, growing up as a Tennessee kid:
“Honestly, it was a really big deal when Coach Barnes and Coach Lanier, Rob Lanier, called me. And Coach Oliver (Desmond Oliver) recruited me as well. When they called me and told me that they were with the University of Tennessee, it was honestly like a dream come true, and it still feels as if I’m living a dream – that a kid from Kingsport gets to come and play for his state university, which has always been his dream. I’m very blessed to be in this position, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. I believe I was in Atlanta or Marietta, Alpharetta, somewhere around the Atlanta area playing in a tournament when I got that call and when they offered. I’ll never forget it and my AAU coach knew it was coming and we talked about it, and it was really hard not to commit on the spot because of what I’ve talked about, being from Tennessee, my love for Tennessee. But I really wanted to go through the recruiting process and weigh out my options, and that’s what I did. Obviously, I picked the best school, but I remember that recruiting process like it was yesterday for a long time.”

On decision to come back to Tennessee being influenced by feeling like there is more left to give after this season:
“That could definitely be one of the reasons, and we still have a lot of basketball left this season to play. The most important basketball is still left and we can have a great season. But, I would come back for many different reasons and would that be one of them? Yes. Would that be the main reason? I’m not sure. I’m still weighing out my options and seeing what the best is for me and talking to my family about it, praying a lot about it and just seeing what the best option is.”

On what is being worked on in practice to do well individually and as a team, heading into the Conference and NCAA Tournaments:
“I think right now, we’re just playing as a team together right now, and I think that we have come together more than ever right now, as we should and because now we know how important each game is from now on. We’re just trying to get everybody to play their best, because as we’ve seen and you all have seen in a couple games this season, that when everybody is playing their best and playing their role, then we’re a very, very good team, and I feel like we could beat anybody in the country. We’ve just got to get everybody, including myself, to play their role and play the best they can.”

On what mistakes have been seen when watching back film, individual improvements and solutions going forward:
“I see a lot of things. I see double teams. I see me not being aggressive. I see me not making the right play. But that’s why we watch it, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I’ve tried to improve all season. If I could go back and play like I did last year, you better believe that I would, and I would play even better. I’ve been trying my best to play like that, and I think that I’ve still got that in me. And so, you know, you just got to keep working every day to try to get better and get your swagger back.”

On how he wants to be remembered as a player:
“I would want Tennessee fans—not as a basketball player but off the court, as somebody that had a positive impact on people, somebody that liked to have fun, someone that tried to lift people up, and somebody that gave their all for Tennessee. On the court, I want to be known as the ultimate teammate that was there for one another when times were good and bad. I want to be known as someone that played hard all the time, someone that hustled and had lots of energy. I would like to leave a great and lasting impact on Tennessee and hopefully, I can be known as somebody that came in and left it better than they found it. I just hope that I can leave with those things.”

On the factors that will help him decide his future:
“I believe turning pro and coming back are my only two options. I would not look into grad-transferring because I think I’m too loyal to the University of Tennessee, to Knoxville, to my state, to Coach Barnes and his staff, so if I’m going to play college basketball next year, it’s going to be at the University of Tennessee. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do because there are a lot of factors that go into it. I’m going to focus on this team right now and finish the season strong but after, I’m going to talk to a few people, think about it and pray about it, and weigh all the options.”

On some of his favorite moments as a Volunteer:
“When we beat Gonzaga in Phoenix a few years ago and I’ll never forget when we beat Georgia in Thompson-Boling Arena to clinch the SEC title. We’ve beat Kentucky here a lot which is always fun and the Florida game last year was a lot of fun as well. That would be a reason why I would come back next year if COVID comes down and we can have a full TBA again. Our freshmen and EJ haven’t felt what it’s like to play in a full TBA and you can’t simulate that in a video because it’s one of those things where you have to be there because you can’t recreate it. I’ve really missed all of the fans there this season because we have the best fans in the country and it’s not the same with having it 20 percent full. It plays a big role in home-court advantage, because those fans can really make a difference so hopefully, COVID doesn’t do much next year because those fans really make a difference.”

On what it’s like being around the Grant Williams era to the Jaden Springer era:
“Being around as long as I have been it’s been a great and fun time. It’s been a learning experience I would say because you were a part of the build watching Coach Barnes’ first recruiting class with me and five others. It’s been fun to watch our program turn around with guys like Kevin Punter, Armani Moore, Admiral SchofieldKyle AlexanderLamonte Turner and I know I’m missing some people. It’s cool to see the standard we’ve set for Tennessee Basketball.”

On if the team is doing ok emotionally at the moment:
“I think we’re doing great. I know that may be hard to hear, but in our mindset right now, we’re knowing that if and when we come together, we can be unstoppable. We’ve seen it a few times this season. We just have to play together as a team and play for each other. We know what that takes and how we can do it. I think we have got full confidence coming into this last part of the season that we can do exactly just that.”

On how much different he is compared to when he got to Tennessee:
“I don’t feel like I’m the same person. I feel like countless people here—and I could name 20 people here that have influenced me and helped me grow as a person. Whether that’s athletically with basketball, spiritually, emotionally, physically, I can name so many people here during my time here that have helped me out, molded me and helped me become a more mature, smarter, more intelligent and mentally stronger person than before I got here. I could thank a lot of people that have shaped me while I’ve been here at Tennessee—and I’ll tell those people who they are. It has been a fun time here for me and I’ve enjoyed it all and I definitely think I’ve become a better person while I’ve been here.”

On the story of what the last year has been like:
“It’s been crazy to be honest. That whole situation was just something that we never thought would have happened. We were playing well at the end of the season last year. We were on our way to Nashville. We stopped in Cookeville to see the people who had been affected by the tornadoes. First of all, that was something that besides COVID—when we didn’t really know COVID was a thing yet—that made us so thankful for what you have and honestly it can be taken away like that. You could go to sleep tonight and wake up with none of your cars, house, your loved ones may not be there as well. So, that was really eye-opening for us, our coaches and my teammates, it made us realize that life is so much more than basketball and about other things. We realized that we’re so lucky and blessed to play this game and have the things we have. We talked to those people that had been affected and they went to sleep that night not knowing what was going to happen and they woke up and their house was torn down, their cars were down the street or across the field. Their churches were demolished and it was just really eye-opening and I just felt so bad for those people. They lost things and people that they loved and I’m still feeling for them.
“After that, we went to Nashville and the media coverage world-wide on COVID when we got there was starting to pick up. They were talking about it coming into the United States with cases starting to pick up. The night before we were supposed to play, the NBA postponed their season. We thought it was weird that with the NBA being above college basketball, that if they’re not playing, then why are we playing. We woke up, we were still on to play and so we got ready for the game, went to Bridgestone Arena, we were about to head out to the game and that’s when they called everything off.

“From then on, COVID really impacted a lot of people. A lot of people lost their lives due to COVID. Then, it made you consider even more that you don’t know what life is going to be. Then, we went home for six months, not being able to leave the house. A lot of people got laid off of their jobs, people were working from home and things like that. But, to see a positive and bright side of that for myself, I got to spend a lot of time with my family and my family means the world to me. To be able to spend that much time with them is something I haven’t done since I was 16, because I went to a boarding school. So, I loved spending time with my family. That was something positive.

“Then, restaurants were closing and the only places you could really go was the grocery store and the hospital. It’s definitely been a crazy last year that we’ve been a part of. Not even our grandmothers or great grandmothers have been a part of something like this. It’s really something no one has really ever seen before, but I think you still need to find the positive out of it and look at the good things in life. I think if you’re always looking at the bad things and having a negative mindset, you’re not going to get very far in life. I always try to look at the positive things and be happy about every situation.”

On being a public figure:
“I think you do adjust to it and I’ve kind of enjoyed it because I always put myself in Chris Lofton, Wayne Chisolm, those people’s shoes. Especially with taking pictures and signing autographs and talking to kids and fans, because when I was a kid growing up I really loved to watch that team play. I was a big fan of that team with Chris Lofton, Wayne Chisolm, Scottie Hopson, Tyler Smith; that whole team I loved watching them play. I put myself in their shoes and as a Tennessee kid growing up, if I saw one of them out in public or eating or after a game, I would have loved to get a picture with them or get their autograph and if I went up to them and asked for a picture and they said no, I would just be heartbroken because they were my idols at the time. I would have been heartbroken if they said they couldn’t sign something for me or take a picture with me. I put myself in their shoes and I try not to turn down a picture or autograph or anything because I know that I’m not going to be in this position forever and I want to use it to the best of my abilities in a good way and have a positive impact on people. Being a public figure and being someone that is recognizable out in public is a good thing because you have to watch what you do, what you say, because you can’t really do a whole lot without people noticing. I always act as if my mother is there because my mother has very high standards for me, so I think I do a pretty good job because I think about her when I’m making decisions. I think I’ve gotten used to being a public figure, and it definitely takes some getting used to because I was not that known before, but I guess a lot of people know you when you play basketball here.”

On how many hours he spent with Chad Newman the last five years:
“I think that I have probably broken the record for player in Tennessee Basketball history that has spent the most hours with Chad Newman, and being here five years, we have spent a lot of time together. Chad has been here for 55 years, I have been here for five. In his many years here, I probably doubled the guy who had the previous record for most hours with Chad. As much as you don’t want to see Chad because he is the Athletic Trainer, we have a great relationship and we have spent a lot of time together, basically my whole first year and a half. This is a side note but Chad makes really good spaghetti, I’ve tried it a couple times, because he knows I like it. I hope Chad is going to miss me as much as I’m going to miss him because I’m going to miss him.”

-UT Athletics

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