John Fulkerson will write a different ending to his Tennessee basketball career.
The 6-foot-9 forward is coming back to Knoxville for a sixth year, taking advantage of the NCAA’s ruling to grant extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding,” Fulkerson said in a Twitter video on Friday, citing Proverbs 3:5-6. “In all your ways, acknowledge him and we will make straight your path.
“My path still points to Rocky Top. This opportunity is too special to walk away from. Vol Nation, I’m back.”
Fulkerson’s decision further bolsters Tennessee’s roster amid a major week for coach Rick Barnes. UT landed four-star center Jonas Aidoo on Wednesday and five-star forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield on Thursday. Huntley-Hatfield reclassified to UT’s 2021 class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation in the 247Sports Composite.
Fulkerson will not count against the Tennessee’s 13-scholarship limit. The Vols still have two openings.
Fulkerson announced his decision in a poignant three-minute video. He highlighted his path from a kid in Kingsport with dreams of playing for Tennessee to the 23-year-old who got to live his dream for five years.
He reflected on being that kid in announcing his return, mentioning specifically how his career would have ended if he elected not to return to Tennessee.
“Imagine if I could go back in time and talk with that young version of myself back in Kingsport,” Fulkerson said. “Would he believe the things he grew up to experience? What would he think of these last few years? What would he think about the last time I walked off the court in Nashville? What would he think if I told him I had the chance to do it all one more time? To walk off the court on my terms? I think I know what he would want me to do. I am not about to let him down.”
Fulkerson’s first senior season brutally ended in the second half of Tennessee’s 78-64 win against Florida in the SEC Tournament. Gators forward Omar Payne elbowed Fulkerson twice in the head, sending the Vols forward crumpling to the court. He suffered a concussion and facial fracture. He missed UT’s loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament and its season-ending loss to Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fulkerson indicated prior to his senior day that he hadn’t decided what his next step was after a season in which he averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. He maintained that stance after an emotional senior day at Thompson-Boling Arena in which he had one of his best games in a trying season.
“I understand who and what I represent and I have never taken that lightly,” Fulkerson said.
Fulkerson averaged 13.7 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior to earn second-team All-SEC honors. He scored in double figures in all but four SEC games.
He scored 18.3 points per game in the final 10 games of his junior season, including a career-high 27 points to carry the Vols to a comeback win at Rupp Arena.
Fulkerson averaged 3.1 and 1.7 points in a reserve role as a sophomore and freshman, respectively. He started his career well in the 2016-17 season before suffering a gruesome elbow injury in December 2016. He tore his labrum the following spring, which limited him going into his freshman season.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.