Will John Fulkerson return to Tennessee basketball? He says he hasn't decided

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

John Fulkerson is open to suggestions.

The Tennessee basketball senior hasn’t decided whether he will return to the Vols next season or turn professional, he said Wednesday.

“Am I thinking about returning? Of course,” Fulkerson said. “It is hard to pass up this institution, this basketball program, these coaches, my teammates, the university. Absolutely, I am thinking about returning. Have I made up a decision yet? No.”

Fulkerson will be recognized on senior day along with Yves Pons before Tennessee (16-7, 9-7 SEC) hosts Florida (13-6, 9-5) on Sunday (noon ET, ESPNU). But it ultimately might not be the finale for Fulkerson at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“My emotions are sad that it could potentially, maybe, potentially be my last home game at Tennessee,” Fulkerson said. “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, the relationships I’ve made.

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The Kingsport native has the option to return to UT for a sixth season thanks to an NCAA ruling to grant all winter sport athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He could turn professional. He said he would not consider being a graduate transfer.

“I would not look into grad transferring because I think I am too loyal to the University of Tennessee, to Knoxville, to my state, to Coach (Rick) Barnes and his staff,” Fulkerson said. “If I am going to play college basketball next year, it is going to be at Tennessee.”

Fulkerson plans to make a decision following the season after talking to his family and praying about what he will do. He said there are many factors that will go into the choice.

His struggles as a senior are one of the reasons, but he stressed he “would come back for many different reasons.”

“We still have a lot of basketball left to play this season, too,” Fulkerson said. “The most important basketball is still left that we can have a great season.”

Fulkerson is averaging 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds as a senior. He averaged 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds as a junior, when he earned All-SEC honors. He was pegged as a preseason All-SEC choice after the breakout season in which he averaged more than 18 points in the final 10 games.

But the 2020-21 campaign has not gone according to plan.

“If I could go back and play like I did last year, you better believe that I would,” Fulkerson said. “I would play even better. I have been trying my best to play like that. I think I have still got that in me. You just have to keep working every day to get better and get your swagger back.”

Barnes expressed confidence Monday that Fulkerson will do so yet. He said he won’t quit on Fulkerson, who hasn’t quit on himself or his teammates.

Part of that drive in Fulkerson always trickles back to his youth, when he cheered for Vols like Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism. He reflected on those days Wednesday, as what might be his final home game approaches.

“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,” Fulkerson said. "I am very blessed to be in this position.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at 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.