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Fulkerson staying in shape, contact with teammates

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 5, 2020 at 8:45 PM

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

John Fulkerson comes to mind upon hearing those words from Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes.

Some players, Barnes noted, will be more dedicated about staying in shape through the COVID-19 pandemic than others.

Just like any other offseason.

Fulkerson certainly took it to another level his junior season, when he led the Vols with averages of 13.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. The 6-foot-9 forward improved his scoring averages by over 10 points.

Now back home in Kingsport and facing a situation like none before, Fulkerson is doing what he can to hone his skills. He can’t practice against other players, but 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.”

For most players, it’s the time of year to get better and increase their workout routines. Now, Fulkerson is off campus and unable to work out with Tennessee’s strength coaches while also dealing with the state’s stay-at-home order. He is lifting weights at home with his brother.

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

“My teammates and I have a group chat on text message and Snapchat,” 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’s shutdown obviously affects him as a student as much as a player. Technology is a crucial tool.

“They’re not your normal online classes. There’s an app called Zoom,” said Fulkerson, a recreation and sports management major. “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’s classroom motivation is matched on the court.

Next season’s expectations are high for the Vols, who are coming off a 17-14 season, have most of the team returning and the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class coming in, according to Rivals 24/7. That 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,” he 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.”

During Fulkerson’s sophomore season, UT broke the school record with 31 wins and spent four weeks ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. The season ended with a 99-94 overtime loss to Purdue in the NCAA Sweet 16, but Fulkerson remembers how special it was for a team 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,” Fulkerson 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. Being No. 1 for those weeks showed we were at that time.”

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