John Fulkerson and the Tennessee men’s basketball team are still dancing after Sunday’s dramatic overtime win over Iowa in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
After dispatching the Hawkeyes, the second-seeded Vols (30-5) are getting ready to face another Big Ten team, Purdue, on Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
Fulkerson, a redshirt sophomore who was born in Johnson City and grew up in Kingsport, has been a key reserve for the Vols, averaging over 12 minutes per game. The 6-foot-9 forward had some key highlights late in the season with his left-handed, highlight-reel dunks against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Kentucky.
“I just go after every rebound, especially every offensive rebound there is,” Fulkerson said. “Some of those are the result of getting the rebound, having that second chance and getting the dunk. They were just right the way they came off the rim and some were off inbounds plays, I was at the right place at the right time.”
While there are more goals to accomplish, it has already been a dream season for the Vols, who had a school-record 19-game winning streak earlier in the season. They set another program mark with four weeks ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press top 25 poll.
“This has been a great year, all the weeks at No. 1 and winning the games over that streak,” Fulkerson said. “We’re not done yet. We have work to do. We just want to stay focused on one game at a time.”
While the team has been led by two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year Grant Williams and senior guard Admiral Schofield, the season has been equally as sweet for Fulkerson.
Fulkerson took a medical redshirt for the 2016-17 season after suffering a dislocated elbow and fractured wrist, and he was extremely disappointed to not get to play in front of the home fans when the Vols pulled out a 72-68 win over East Tennessee State in Johnson City.
This season, which has included winning two of three games against rival Kentucky and wins over 10 teams that earned NCAA tournament bids, has made up for those trying times.
“Just putting all the time in, getting back from the injuries and getting back healthy, that was a lot of work,” Fulkerson said. “It’s nice now to be healthy and enjoy this success as a team.”
Not primarily a shooter, Fulkerson has averaged 3.3 points per game and has hit 58.6 percent from the field.
Fulkerson scored a career-high 15 points in a 96-53 win against Tennessee Tech in December. Three weeks earlier, he had five points, five rebounds and five blocks in the Vols’ 76-73 victory over then No. 1 Gonzaga.
Some of his other career highs includes 10 rebounds and five blocks against Oregon as a freshman.
Fulkerson played his freshman and sophomore year at Dobyns-Bennett before transferring to Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina, where he broke former Duke star Marshall Plumlee’s single-season record for blocked shots. Fulkerson chose Tennessee over Charlotte, where he also made an official visit.
He enjoys a great relationship with Vols coach Rick Barnes. While much was made over Barnes shoving Fulkerson on the sideline to get his point across to an official in the Iowa game, the player said the whole thing was blown out of proportion.
“I’ve heard people talk about it, but Coach Barnes was just showing the ref what the other player was doing,” Fulkerson said. “I’m still confused on how I got a foul called on me. We’re a close team and that helps our team chemistry on the court, knowing how we have each other’s backs.
“Coach Barnes is an intense coach, definitely, on the court. Off the court, he’s funny and easy to talk to. It makes it easy to play for him.”