KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee basketball team needs a better John Fulkerson if they want to compete for a Southeastern Conference Championship. Vols head coach Rick Barnes made that clear after the LSU game last Saturday.

“We need John to help us,” said Barnes after Saturday’s loss. “If not, he needs to step aside.”

Fulkerson’s return from a bout with COVID-19 has been bumpy. The Super Senior has just eight points and five rebounds in the two games since returning to the lineup.

Barnes says he would never say something to the media that he’s not already said to his players, he made that clear during Monday’s press conference.

“If anybody thinks I’m going to use the media to get a message to my players, then they are nuts if they think that’s going to happen” said Barnes.

Barnes knows the team needs Fulkerson at his best in order to compete with good teams.

“My comment after the game about him was if he is sick, he does need to let us know that, so we can help him get back to where he needs to be, said Barnes. “If you’re not feeling well, you don’t have the energy, we got to know that because we can adjust.”

The bottom line is, after a 1-2 start in SEC play, the margin for error is small if Barnes and the Vols want to compete for the conference crown.

Tennessee gets back on the court on Tuesday night when they play host to South Carolina. Tip off is set for 6:30pm from Thompson-Boling Arena.