Fulkerson staying in shape, contact with teammates

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 5, 2020 at 10:00 AM

John Fulkerson is the first name that comes to mind when hearing the words of Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes.

The veteran coach explained that some players will be more dedicated about staying in shape through the COVID-19 pandemic than others. In that sense, it’s the same as a normal offseason.

“Some guys work harder than other guys. Players decide who plays,” Barnes said. “Regardless of the circumstances, some people are going to work and take it to another level.”

Fulkerson certainly took it to another level his junior season, leading the Vols with 13.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. It was an improvement of over 10 points per game for the 6-foot-9 forward.

Now back home in Kingsport and facing a situation like never before, Fulkerson is doing what he can to hone his skills. While he can’t practice against other players, he has been able to work on his offensive moves and shots.

“I’m lucky to get in a certain gym and work out every day,” he said. “I’m lucky I have a trainer where we’re able to use a facility to shoot and work out.”

Fulkerson has talked to family and friends about how different of a time this is. For most players, it’s the time of year to get better and increase their workout routines. Not able to work out with Tennessee’s strength coaches on campus and with authorities asking everyone to stay in, Fulkerson is lifting weights at home with his brother.

Despite being apart from teammates, Fulkerson said it’s important to keep the chemistry alive. The Vols have made arrangements to always stay in close contact.

“My teammates and I have a group chat on text message and snap chat,” he said. “We communicate every day. I also talk to someone on the coaching staff every day. They’re always checking in and making sure everything is good. Even though we’re away from each other, we communicate every day.”

The University of Tennessee shutdown obviously affects him as a student as much as a player. In this ever-changing world, the Tennessee students use modern technology to gain a broader understanding of problems.

“They’re not your normal online classes. There’s an app called Zoom,” he said. “It’s basically like Facetime. My tutor will share her screen so she can teach me what she’s doing and how to work the problems. It’s a little weird, but it’s helpful. You have to find the time to be dedicated and do the school work at home instead of just hanging out.”

Fulkerson, a recreation and sport management major, is motivated to do his best both in the classroom and the court.

Coming off a 17-14 season with most of the team returning along with the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals 24/7, expectations are high for the Vols. The recruiting class includes highly touted shooting guard Jaden Springer and forward Keon Johnson, both ranked among the top 25 players in the nation.

Still, Fulkerson said the philosophy remains unchanged in Knoxville.

“Our goals stay the same every season,” Fulkerson said. “You want to win as many games as possible and win the SEC regular season, the SEC tournament and do the best we can in the NCAA tournament.”

Fulkerson looks back at his sophomore season, when the Vols set school records with 31 wins and being ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for four weeks. Even though the season ended with a 99-94 overtime loss to Purdue in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament, Fulkerson recalls what a special season it was with the Vols, who were led by SEC player of the year Grant Williams and all-conference guard Admiral Schofield.

“The best thing about it, that it was the team, coaches, everyone who worked for that,” he said. “It wasn’t that one person did this or that. Everybody in the program knew the hard work paid off. Other than winning the national championship, you want to be the best team in the country, and being ranked No. 1 for that time showed that.”

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