Vols’ Williams seeks to build off his big freshman season
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee forward Grant Williams realizes he won’t sneak up on anybody this year.
Williams developed into one of the Southeastern Conference’s biggest overachievers last season to become one of Tennessee’s most reliable players as a freshman. Now the Volunteers need him to take the next step and develop more consistency.
“He’s got to be a guy that’s constantly climbing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “He can’t have those up-and-down days where he’s not really trying to get better.”
The Vols head into Friday’s season opener with Presbyterian knowing their chances of seriously contending for an NCAA Tournament bid depend on how the six remaining players from last year’s seven-man freshman class improve now that they have a year of experience. Williams is the best of the bunch.
“Last year we were really young, and that was our excuse for all the mistakes we made and all the things we did,” Williams said. “Now we don’t have that excuse anymore. We’ve grown up. We’ve got to be mature mentally, both on the court and off the court and in the film room.”
Williams is Tennessee’s top returning scorer and rebounder after averaging 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds last season. He had the sixth-highest point total of any Tennessee freshman ever after being rated just 191st nationally in his high school class according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports .
The Vols need even more from him.
Barnes already has reminded Williams he can’t be satisfied with what he did last season. Barnes left Williams out of the starting lineup of Tennessee’s first exhibition game last week because he didn’t believe the 6-7 sophomore had performed consistently enough in practice.
“I just wanted him to know that I’m not playing around,” Barnes said afterward. “We’ve got to have five guys at least who we can count on every day. I don’t want to be on a roller-coaster ride with these guys.”
Williams understood Barnes’ decision and said that he hadn’t been consistent enough in the days leading up to that exhibition.
“I know for us to be good, he has to give us ego checks,” Williams said. “He has to do them for everyone, not just me.”
Williams responded by averaging 21 points and 9.5 rebounds in Tennessee’s two exhibition games, including a 24-point effort Sunday in a victory at Clemson that raised money for the Salvation Army’s hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida.
His ability to respond to Barnes’ criticism reflects Williams’ work ethic. Williams, the son of a NASA engineer, opted to play for Tennessee after considering Yale and Princeton. He can play several different musical instruments.
Williams’ unwillingness to settle is evident when he brings up his 30-point performance at Georgia last season. Williams notes that he only got four rebounds in that game, which Tennessee lost 76-75 .
“That’s something that really can’t happen,” Williams said. “If I’m going to have those scoring outings or do something like that, I need to be on the glass as well because that’s what my team needs more than points because I know all of us can score.”
Williams says he wants to average at least 10 rebounds this season, a tall order for someone who had less than 6 per game a year ago. If he accomplishes that task, Tennessee’s team goal of making the NCAA Tournament could be well within reach.
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