Just in case Grant Williams goes away before his time at Tennessee expires, I’d like to say a word about his first three years. Wow!
Williams came near enough to doing it all. He gave tremendous effort. He led many victories. He won assorted awards. Day by day, he was a class act, topped off by that note of compassion to heartbroken Auburn.
Going back to 2016, he sure fooled me. He arrived at age 17 and admitted he was a wee bit chubby. I remember thinking he was not tall enough to play inside or nimble enough to be an effective wing. I wasn’t sure he even had a shot, but I knew he could pass freshman English.
His mother helped me grasp the situation. Because Grant was a leader instead of a follower, Teresa put the nickname “General” in front of his name.
Lucas Chamberlain was a senior at Providence Day School in Charlotte when Grant, as a freshman, came out for the basketball team. Lucas got the word that Williams was blessed with athletic talents and larger-than-life personality.
“He introduced himself as Grant but said everyone calls him ‘The General,’” Chamberlain recalled.
“I looked at him and laughed and told him I was not calling him that.”
In time, when players saw how good he really was, they started calling him General.
“Before we knew it, everyone on campus – even teachers – called him ‘General Grant.’”
Tennessee chose a different G word, Great, as in one of the best ever in orange. He is a winning warrior. He is a two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year. He is a rare consensus all-American. He has earned equal space in the Thompson-Boling rafters with Bernard King and Dale Ellis. He is ahead of Ernie Grunfeld, Allan Houston and Chris Lofton.
I suppose I am repeating my previous evaluation error when I question whether he fits any position in the NBA. Jay Bilas says he’s looking at a 10- to 12-year career. What Grant hears from the pros in the coming weeks will determine whether he goes now or next year. A lot of lives are linked to that decision.
Grant Williams is a realist. He knows who he is. He also remembers who he was, three stars, far-out No. 191 prospect in the class of 2016, not even on the second-look list of Duke and North Carolina.
Mother Teresa, NASA engineer, had faith in education. To heck with the ACC, she wanted her multitalented young man to go Ivy League, preferably Yale or Harvard. Princeton would have been OK.
What a waste that would have been.
Grant chose Tennessee – because of Desmond Oliver and because the UT scholarship offer was the only one he got from the bright-lights division.
Grant and Des had a friendly relationship from when the assistant coach was at North Carolina-Charlotte. When he switched to Rick Barnes’ staff at Tennessee, he brought along Grant’s phone number. They talked from time to time. Oliver told Barnes there was far more to Grant Williams than met the eye. How true that was.
Grant has been called a “Renaissance man” who sees more in life than basketball. He calls himself a nerd. He actually reads.
“I embrace that. I love to learn. It doesn’t have to be academic, it can be anything.”
As a youth, Grant competed in national chess tournaments. He dabbled with three languages. Because of his mother’s job, he got to see a space shuttle launch. He won a trophy in math competition. He sang and danced in a high school musical.
Music has always been important. That love was handed down. The family often gathered at a grandfather’s house to hear and see him play piano.
Grant caught that fever. He worked one summer painting houses and bought a piano on a payment plan. He owns a baby grand and a dozen keyboards. He thinks he can play the violin, drums, some saxophone and the clarinet. Others say he still has room for improvement.
Basketball was inherited. His dad, Gilbert Williams, is in the basketball hall of fame at Minnesota State in Mankato. He played overseas. A great-uncle played for the Harlem Globetrotters. An uncle played at Fisk in Nashville. Two cousins played in the NBA.
Grant never studied baskets seriously until he joined up with Barnes. That led to remarkable development.
There are other remarkable aspects to Grant Williams. He is very much the big man on campus. I’m guessing he is No. 1 in name and face recognition. He acknowledges others. He signs autographs. He’ll smile for photos. He was on the 2018 SEC community service team. He seems unaffected by fame.
“He’s like a big kid because he’s always joking and laughing,” teammate Lamonte Turner said. “He doesn’t have too many dull moments.”
“Grant’s amazing, man,” said Jordan Bone. “He’s a great guy on and off the court. He’s a leader.”
Admiral Schofield created a beautiful down-home partnership with Grant. He said, together, they were peanut butter and jelly.
Brian Fields, Grant’s high school coach, provides perspective.
“He’s one of a kind, one of those with the ability to light up the room when he walks in.
“He’s a fierce competitor but a giant teddy bear. That’s how I always described him. And he’s still the exact same Grant. He hasn’t turned into a guy who thinks he’s big time. He always has a smile on his face. He will talk with anyone who wants to talk with him.
“Despite all of his success, he’s remained true to the person he is.”
Here’s my salute to the General. Thanks for your time at Tennessee. Hope three goes to four, but, whatever you decide, blessings on you. You have earned our respect and appreciation.
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is [email protected]