Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes didn't give up on John Fulkerson in February.
Barnes isn't bailing on the senior forward in March, either.
Sunday afternoon's showdown against Florida inside Thompson-Boling Arena in the Southeastern Conference regular-season finale for both teams will provide somewhat of an awkward Senior Day for the 6-foot-9, 215-pounder from Kingsport. A year after leading the Volunteers with 13.7 points on 61.2% shooting, Fulkerson is averaging 9.3 points per contest and is shooting at a 51.6% clip.
Take away a 19-point performance Feb. 17 against a South Carolina team missing two starters, and Fulkerson has scored just 20 points in his last six games.
"I still believe in John Fulkerson. I do," Barnes said Tuesday afternoon. "I know that he's still trying to put the work in to do what he needs to do and that he's still a big part of this. I've seen a lot of things in my lifetime and in this business, and I've seen guys struggle and then all at once the light clicks back on.
"I just don't think you can quit on people who have put everything they have into a program. That doesn't mean you won't make adjustments here or there, but we do that every game."
The Vols (16-7, 9-7 SEC) are out of the Associated Press top 25 for the first time this season after climbing to No. 6 following their 10-1 start. They have split their past 12 games, with the erratic stretch beginning with a 75-49 humbling at the hands of Mike White's Gators (13-6, 9-5) on Jan. 19.
Fulkerson, Yves Pons and E.J. Anosike are the three seniors on Tennessee's roster, but Barnes reiterated Tuesday that Anosike has already decided to use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic and won't go through Sunday's pregame festivities. Fulkerson and Pons have decisions to make as well, but Barnes said that this week isn't the time for that.
"They have options," Barnes said. "I mean, Fulky could come back here. He could transfer to another school. He could choose to go to the professional route, but I don't think he's thinking about that right now. People have called me and said, 'Well, he hasn't had the kind of year that we thought he might have,' and he knows that, too.
"He's never made it about himself. When you have high expectations and don't live up to them, as an individual or as a team, there is disappointment, but he's not going to be written out of the script. He has been too loyal, and he has worked too hard."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.