"We actually went to see him play basketball – Coach Clawson, myself and Coach Scott," Fulmer recalled. "I knew he was a good athlete from the tape (of a football game) but I had no idea until I watched him play basketball just how good an athlete he really was. He was playing over the rim."
On one of his excursions above the rim, Abrams-Ward was undercut by an opposing player and flipped onto his back. Although he wasn't seriously injured, Abrams-Ward was seriously ticked off.
"The next five minutes ..." Fulmer said, laughing at the recollection, "when he got the basketball, I mean, he played with that kind of intensity. He was playing like he wanted to play. I liked that five-minute stretch."
That's the kind of ferocity that made Abrams-Ward a four-star football prospect and earned him a spot on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 all-star team. He gained more than 1,200 yards rushing and more than 800 receiving as a senior.
In addition to his gridiron prowess, he has scored more than 1,000 career points as a three-year starter for Thomasville High's hoops squad, earning all-state honors as a junior last year. He hopes to continue his hardwood career in college.
"He wants to play basketball here," Fulmer said, "and that's fine, as long as his academics are in order. Bruce (Pearl) has OKed it, so that's fine."
Several Vol football players have attempted to double as basketball players in recent years – receivers Andy McCullough, Jeremaine Copeland and C.J. Fayton being the most notable. All gave up their hoop dreams after brief, ill-fated flings.
Fulmer said he has "no problem with guys doing two sports" but conceded that doubling in football and basketball is harder than doubling in football and track or football and baseball. Clearly, the odds do not favor Abrams-Ward.
"I've explained to E.J. that to go from one season to the other – and they've already been playing for that long – is really difficult," Fulmer said. "We were honest and upfront from that standpoint."
Of course, E.J. Abrams-Ward is no ordinary basketball player. Phillip Fulmer can attest to that.