The Tennessee native has a tough choice to make.
With the basketball season ending quicker than most thought it would, Tennessee enters one of the most revealing offseasons of the Rick Barnes era. There is a legitimate chance that the Volunteers lose four starters off this year’s squad, which didn’t exactly perform like we thought it would. Losing a lot of starters isn’t unfamiliar (it happened just a couple years ago, after all) but it’s a lot different when you don’t appear to have anyone behind them, ready to step up.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the frontcourt. A lack of recruiting, lack of development, and some bad luck means the Volunteers don’t have much to look forward to once this crop of starters leaves. Which includes the hometown hero John Fulkerson.
We’ve written plenty of words about Fulkerson’s career at Tennessee. From a bench player, to an All-Conference selection, to a disappointing senior year, Fulkerson has experienced it all. Whatever frustrations you had with him this past season, you cannot deny that he is their best option down low, whether that’s a good or bad development.
Which makes it all the more scary that Fulkerson might be on his way out.
He technically still has a choice. The NCAA’s announcement that they would extend eligibility for winter sports presents a conundrum for a lot of seniors. If they felt the pandemic affected their ability to perform (or even just enjoy their final year of eligibility), they might be interested in sticking around another year.
Well, considering what we saw from the Kingsport native, he has an interest in taking up the offer.
For Fulkerson, I think it’s fairly obvious that he won’t be an NBA player. His ceiling is a fine college player. With how small the NBA is, there’s just no chance that someone like Fulkerson can have a sustained career at the highest level. It requires a certain type of athleticism that he just does not have. If you don’t have the athleticism, you need to be super refined in at least one area of the game. I don’t think that applies to Fulkerson. He does some things well and knows his limitations, but there’s no trait you can point to that says he’s “elite”.
If that’s the reality, then Fulkerson might be better served just having an extended college career. He’s liked enough by Tennessee fans that he could return for another season and cement his legacy.
However, he is also going to turn 24 before the next season begins. At some point it becomes a question of what he wants to do next in his career.
He’s been in Knoxville for 5 years already; he’s seen the ups the downs and everything in between. What more does he really have left to prove? Also, if some overseas team feels like they could use him, maybe he could carve out a space over there. It’s not ideal, but you can’t stay in college forever.
Much has been made about the incoming addition of 5-star Kennedy Chandler and what he means for the point guard position. He is probably a top-3 talent recruiting wise to ever come to Knoxville. Personally, I think he is a better prospect at this stage than either of Keon Johnson or Jaden Springer when they came in.
If that holds true, Fulkerson could see the benefits of playing a year with one of the most talented freshman in the country. It’s obvious by now that Barnes is not going to change his system, so a big guy like Fulkerson is going to get a certain amount of touches a game, just by the nature of what he is asked to do. Could Fulkerson have a much better 2022 season with Chandler at the helm, rather than Santiago Vescovi?
It’s enough a possibility that Fulkerson should seriously think on it. Considering the aforementioned lack of depth in the frontcourt, he might also be Chandler’s best option in the paint.
I think Fulkerson staying another year makes a lot of sense for both him and the team. Truthfully, I think the Volunteers might need him more than he needs them.