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This Week in UT Sports History – April 22nd-29th

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little

As University of Tennessee students hike the Hill for their last week of classes and look forward to the summer, take a journey back to past springs in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

April 29, 1997

Kingsport, Tennessee, may be the birthplace of Pal’s Sudden Service, but it’s also the hometown of Vol Basketball forward John Fulkerson who celebrates his birthday this week. Growing up in Kingsport, Fulkerson attended Dobyns-Bennett High School, which boasts the title of America’s Winningest Basketball Team, before transferring to Christ School in Arden, North Carolina, to hone his academic and basketball prowess to prepare for Division I. He broke former Duke standout Marshall Plumlee’s single-season record for blocks as a senior during the 2015-16 season with 113 blocked shots.

Fulkerson’s ability to block put him on the map during his recent redshirt sophomore season, recording multiple blocks in six games during the 2018-19 season. He recorded 25 blocked shots on the season, including two in UT’s win against then No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 9, 2018.

His breakout sophomore season followed two seasons marred by injury. Fulkerson dislocated his right elbow and fractured his right wrist against Lipscomb on Dec. 15, 2016 during his redshirt season, ending his run with the Vols for 2016-17. The following season, two more injuries requiring surgery limited Fulkerson to only 10 appearances, though he earned his first start of the season in the NCAA Tournament loss to Loyola-Chicago in the second round on March 17, 2018 while an injured Kyle Alexander remained on the sideline.

Fulkerson most notably made headlines because of his affinity for Pal’s fast food. In the Dec. 29, 2018 match-up against Tennessee Tech, Fulkerson recorded four dunks and 15 points in the 96-53 win. His explanation for his explosive plays: hot dogs, Frenchie Fries, and sweet tea with light ice.

“I ate at Pal’s over [winter] break,” Fulkerson said. “I’ve still got some of that in my system.”

The fast food chain specializing in hot dogs, hamburgers, and staple sweet tea proved a pregame must for Fulkerson the remainder of the season. He even boarded the bus for this year’s NCAA Tournament after grabbing a brown bag full of the Northeast Tennessee favorite.

April 22, 2014

Donnie Tyndall donned the orange and white for the first time on April 22, 2014, opening his short-lived tenure as the head coach of the Tennessee men’s basketball team following his introduction from then Director of Athletics Dave Hart.

Hart hired Tyndall only one week after launching the search for a new head coach after Cuonzo Martin departed for an opportunity at California.

“Donnie Tyndall fits the profile perfectly,” Hart said. “We needed to hire somebody who was a winner. Somebody who had a track record of success…”

Success, however, eluded Tyndall at Tennessee and tarnished the program. The Vols went 16-16 on the season, losing to Arkansas in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. Tyndall’s contract gave him $1.6 million per year until 2020, but the university decided to fire Tyndall with cause after one season because of NCAA violations tied to his time at Southern Mississippi, including academic fraud.

The NCAA imposed a 10-year show-cause penalty on Tyndall, meaning NCAA member schools might incur severe punishment for hiring the embattled coach. Any team hiring a coach under show-cause penalties must prove – must show cause – why it should not face sanctions for the hire.

The NCAA denied Tyndall’s appeal in February 2017, resulting in lawsuit preparation on Tyndall’s behalf in hopes to vindicate his career. However, Tyndall seems to have put his college coaching days in the past, currently serving as an assistant to the Detroit Pistons’ NBA G League team, the Grand Rapids Drive.

“Bottom line is I’m learning the NBA game, which is vastly different than colleges,” Tyndall said earlier this year. “… Most of the things in my college coaching career I have been able to accomplish, and now I want to be an NBA head coach. I do.”

The incident embarrassed the University of Tennessee, but redemption remained just around the corner. Head coach Rick Barnes replaced Tyndall, rebuilding the program and leading Tennessee to a share of the SEC Regular Season title in 2018 and a Sweet Sixteen finish in 2019.

April 25, 2002

Lady Vols Softball split a doubleheader in Athens, Georgia, against the Lady Bulldogs this past Saturday, but this week in UT sports history, the Lady Vols dropped both games of a doubleheader against Florida in Knoxville on April 25, 2002.

Florida (31-30, 11-15 SEC) edged past the Volunteers (33-24-1, 8-16 SEC) by one run, 7-6, in game two of the match-up. The rough outing for the Lady Vols put a damper on hopes to enter the Southeastern Conference Tournament, with a dismal conference record looming over a program looking to rebuild.

“Even though we might not make the SEC Tourney, I am proud of our team’s 33 wins,” Co-head coach Ralph Weekly said, then in his first season at Tennessee. “Considering that this is the same team from last season, minus the top four hitters, two of three pitchers, and the top pitching who failed to make grades to enter UT. This has been a learning year for us, and we are committed to being better in every phase of the game in 2003.”

The Lady Vols jumped out in front in the third inning with an RBI double from Amber Rhinehart and single from Blaine Teasley that allowed Rhinehart to score. However, Florida’s six hits drove in four runs in the top of the fourth, giving the Gators a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish despite a Tennessee comeback in the latter innings.

The Lady Vols finished the season 35-25-1 in the first season under the Weeklys, who took over after a 24-35 season under Jim Beitia, who resigned in 2001. Since, the Weeklys have lead the Lady Vols to 15 NCAA Tournament appearances, the earliest coming in 2004, and seven NCAA Women’s College World Series appearances.

The 2019 Lady Vols continue their season Wednesday with a doubleheader against Tennessee State. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m. at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville. The games will be available for streaming on SEC Network+ (WatchESPN).

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