KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It felt like Tennessee Vol hoops fans collectively let out a cheer on April 16, when beloved Tennessee forward and Kingsport native John Fulkerson announced he is returning to Rocky Top for another season.
However, there is one young Vol fan whose reaction to the news was truly priceless.
The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for winter sport student-athletes following the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it had on college sports.
“Whenever this rule for eligibility came out about staying one more year and this year not counting, I was actually quarantined and coach Barnes called me with one of our assistants and asked me I was coming back,” John Fulkerson told the media.
“I said, ‘no I’ve been here long enough, and this is going to be a great year.’ I did not think for a single second that I would come back or that I was going to return, but then at the end of the season with all the factors that played in, I guess that was the complete change of events.”
On the Vols senior night when the team hosted Florida to close out the regular season, Fulkerson seemed as though he played his final game at Thompson-Boling Arena, although at the time he was uncertain about his future plans.
But it was a later game against the Gators that changed his trajectory.
Fulkerson suffered a flagrant elbow blow to the head by Florida’s Omar Payne in the SEC tournament quarterfinal, which left him with a shiner and a shortened postseason.
“I think that was really a big key factor that played into my decision-making to come back to Tennessee. I think that it was really God showing me that I had the opportunity and chance to do it one more time,” said Fulkerson.
Fulkerson decided he wanted to walk off the court on his own terms.
Back in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee, 8-year-old Kendon May has been developing his love for basketball and the Tennessee Volunteers. His dad, and Tennessee alum, Joe May said he started to see Kendon become emotionally invested in the Vols back in 2019 when Tennessee suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen.
“That’s when it changed for him and it’s certainly been great for us because it’s something we can share with one another,” said Joe May.
Kendon quickly identified his favorite Volunteer, John Fulkerson.
“He’s one of my favorite people in the world,” said Kendon. “He was born in Kingsport just like me and he also went to the same high school as my sister Olivia, and he’s a great role model to all the kids who like basketball.”
When Kendon found out his favorite player was returning for another season, he could not contain his excitement. His reaction, truly priceless.
“It was great. We weren’t expecting that reaction actually and I’m surprised my wife even picked up the phone to record it,” said Joe May.
“I think it’s because he views it so differently than I do as an adult. In his mind, the University of Tennessee is the pinnacle of college athletics so anybody who is willing to accept that gift to be able to play there and play another year I think he loves that. To see Fulkerson come back with that extra year of eligibility was very meaningful for him and for all of us.”
Kendon’s reaction not put smiles on his parents’ faces, but brought joy to the thousands of people who viewed the video on Facebook and the hundreds of people who interacted with the post.
Fulkerson’s return not only adds veteran experience to a roster filled with upcoming, new talent for next season, but continues to inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.
“It shows my children, children in our area that even though we’re from a small area it’s something that doesn’t really matter regardless of where you live if that’s your dream you can achieve it with hard work,” said Joe.
“I think Fulkerson has been a wonderful role model in that way and my son is just one example. If there’s something you want to achieve you can do it regardless of where you come from.”