March Madness: Vols' John Fulkerson happy to be back in big dance

John Fulkerson
Posted at 10:32 AM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 11:32:38-04

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WTVF) — A year ago Tennessee was a part of the NCAA Tournament COVID bubble in Indianapolis that tried to keep all 68 teams safe throughout the tournament.

But not for long. The Vols were sent packing after a first-round upset loss to No. 12 seed Oregon State.

Things are different as Tennessee comes back to Indianapolis this year for its first-round game against Longwood in the Indianapolis pod of the South Region.

Head coach Rick Barnes noted that the security fence that surrounded the team hotel last year is gone and that the inside has been renovated in the last year.

But more importantly, Barnes and the Vols return to Indy with a healthy John Fulkerson available to play this year.

"With him being back, it's different," Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said Wednesday. "But right now I think our team is in a good place in having him back. And he was very important to us Sunday. He played maybe as many minutes as he's played in quite some time."

A team leader and fan favorite Fulkerson suffered a concussion after taking a vicious elbow from then-Florida big man Omar Payne early in the SEC Tournament and couldn't play in the Vols' loss to the Beavers a week later.

After helping Tennessee win the title in his return to the SEC Tournament last weekend, Fulkerson's now chomping at the bit to get on the floor in the Big Dance.

"I was just lucky and so excited to play in the SEC Tournament because of what happened last year," Fulkerson said. "And to be able to win it was so fun and I feel the same way about this year [NCAA Tournament], and us playing the way we are, we've just got to stay focused and keep playing together."

Fulkerson and the Vols hope to leave Indianapolis this weekend with two wins, and an entirely different feeling about their stay.

"Hopefully it's a night and day difference," Fulkerson said. "Starting with me playing and us winning."

Tennessee will meet No. 14 seed Longwood Thursday at 1:45 p.m. You can watch the game on NewsChannel 5.