Tennessee basketball: John Fulkerson returning completes overnight change in post situation

On Wednesday morning, Tennessee basketball only had two scholarship players taller than 6’6″ in Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic. Neither started last year, and only Nkamhoua ever saw significant minutes. This created serious concern in the frontcourt for 2020-2021.

Well, by noon Friday, the Vols looked like they may have the best frontcourt in the SEC next year. It started with the commitment of four-star center Jonas Aidoo on Wednesday. On Thursday, five-star power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield committed. Both signed Thursday as well.

Then came Friday morning and the biggest story of them all. John Fulkerson, Tennessee basketball’s heart and soul the past five years, announced on Twitter he would take advantage of the NCAA’s one-time COVID eligibility ruling and return for his sixth season on Rocky Top.

Now, with Fulkerson back, the Vols have an All-SEC 6’9″ forward who can play the four or the five, they have another five-star power forward, and they have a four-star 6’11” center. Nkamhoua showed real development last year as well. That makes it certain UT can go two-deep at both frontcourt positions now, and don’t count out what Plavsic can do.

The postgame concern began exactly three weeks earlier, when Drew Pember announced he was entering the transfer portal. It got worse after Yves Pons confirmed what everybody expected, that he was leaving for the NBA, and then Corey Walker Jr. and E.J. Anosike both entered the portal as well.

After that came the issues with the Vols’ pursuits in the portal. They went after Furman Paladins transfer forward Noah Gurley and North Carolina Tar Heels transfer center Walker Kessler. Gurley instead joined the Alabama Crimson Tide, and Kessler joined the Auburn Tigers.

That all happened earlier this week and raised tons of questions about what Barnes would do coming off an already disappointing season for Tennessee basketball. Well, he rebuilt the depth overnight, and now that unit is loaded.

By the way, it’s not like the backcourt isn’t loaded as well. Even with the departures of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer along with the transfer of Davonte Gaines, UT returns Josiah-Jordan James,  Santiago Vescovi and Victor Bailey Jr., three key rotational players from last year.

When it comes to additions, Barnes is bringing in five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler, four-star wing Jahmai Mashack and three-star French sharpshooter Quentin Diboundje Eyobo. Auburn Tigers transfer sharpshooter Justin Powell also joins.

Combine that with the frontcourt, and Tennessee basketball is able to go two-deep at every position with one extra frontcourt player and one extra backcourt player. That’s a huge plus for next year’s team, and Fulkerson’s return completes the roster.