KNOXVILLE — Tennessee freshman forward John Fulkerson is likely done for the season after a wrist injury was discovered the day after he dislocated his elbow.
“We thought it was a dislocated elbow, which it was, but they didn’t know until the next day that he had cracked his wrist too, so they put pins in (his wrist),” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said while speaking to the Big Orange Tipoff Club on Wednesday at Calhoun’s on the River.
“It will be really hard for him to come back, to miss as many games as he’s going to miss here. He’s working really hard. He’s doing everything you can do.”
Fulkerson has been out since falling hard on his right elbow during Tennessee’s win over Lipscomb on Dec. 15. Following the gruesome injury, he underwent surgery on his elbow on Dec. 21, but Tennessee said the surgery did not affect the original timetable for his return, set at six weeks on Jan. 17.
Fulkerson, a 6-foot-7 Kingsport native, was averaging 4.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 16.0 minutes per game, starting six times in 10 games, before going down with the injury.
Barnes was asked about the possibility of Fulkerson being granted a medical hardship redshirt from the NCAA, which by rule requires an athlete playing in less than 30 percent of his team’s games. The Vols are guaranteed 32 games this season – 31 regular-season games and at least one game in the SEC tournament – and Fulkerson has played in 10.
“I don’t know,” Bares said of the possible redshirt. “He’s going to be on the cut line. He’s in a position that, right now, if we wanted to redshirt John, he’s dead on in terms of that number (of games) that he can play.”
Barnes equated Fulkerson’s injury situation to that of former Texas big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who was supposed to be a one-and-done player for the Longhorns before going down with an eight-week injury in the first conference game of the 2004-05 season.
“We totally reconstructed his shot, worked on a high release,” Barnes said of Aldridge. “John is doing a lot of that now.”
That’s not to say, Barnes clarified, that it’s been decided for sure that Fulkerson is done for the season.
“I don’t mean he won’t play the rest of the year,” he said, “we haven’t decided that.”
Fulkerson taking a redshirt would help Barnes balance his recruiting classes. The Vols signed six freshmen in their 2016 class, but 6-foot-6 wing Jalen Johnson is redshirting this season. Fulkerson using a redshirt would give Tennessee four players in both its 2016 and 2017 classes.
“We have Jalen Johnson sitting out, so when you’re talking about the class next year, we have two guys in our program that will be in next year’s class,” Barnes said. “It will help John in the long run.”
And Fulkerson’s 10-game run this season helped his teammates, too.
“What he did was really teach some of the older guys how to play,” Barnes said. “He brought the energy that we needed, an intensity. He’s a guy that’s going to play defense and try to rebound. But he brought that kind of energy. And we miss it.