Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes has made it clear before the start of the 2018-19 season begins that he’s not accepting “good enough” from his team this year. He’s demanding this Vol squad play up to their potential each and every night they’re on the court. And he’s expecting the team’s reigning SEC Player of the Year to step up his game as well.
Grant Williams enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore last season, and it culminated in him winning the SEC Player of the Year. Heading into his junior year, he was voted as the preseason Player of the Year for the conference as well. Williams set career-highs in points (15.4), rebounds (6), and assists (1.9) per game last season all while raising his free throw percentage almost a whole 10 percent from his freshman year.
But Barnes isn’t settling for the status quo with Williams. He wants to see the Vols’ star shine brighter this season, and he’s been very vocal about it this offseason.
“In the scrimmage (last) Saturday, he got back to what he was doing well. He did a lot of good things Saturday,” Barnes said of Williams in his preseason press conference. “He worked hard without the ball. He’s gotta rebound the ball better. There’s no doubt that’s the one area that I think we’ll find out if he’s got it mentally if his rebounding total goes up. He should be a double-digit rebounder.
“Defensively, people are gonna come after him. They’re gonna try to make him work on the defensive end, and he can’t give up silly fouls like he did a year ago.”
That was said before Tennessee played their one and only exhibition game last week. In that game, Williams had the second-most points on the team with 15, and he helped lead the Vols to an 87-48 victory over Tusculum.
But Williams only came down with three rebounds in 24 minutes in the game. Kyle Alexander, UT’s center, pulled down six rebounds in 19 minutes. Williams was even out-rebounded by Tennessee’s point guard, Jordan Bone. The 6-foot-3 guard hauled in five rebounds in 22 minutes. Bench player Derrick Walker got seven rebounds in 15 minutes.
Needless to say, Barnes wasn’t pleased with Williams’ rebounding total after that game.
“That’s the biggest stat he’ll be judged by at his height,” Barnes said of Williams, who measures in at 6-foot-7. “That’s an attitude. He either has to think about wanting to score or wanting to do both. He’s not making any effort to get to the boards. There’s no way he should have three rebounds in a game like this.
“The fact is, we challenged him on it, but he allowed Yves (Pons) to take it away from him twice. Yves went up and took two away from him. That’s the mentality that he has to have. Kyle (Alexander) really started trying to do that, same with Derrick Walker. Those guys started doing that, and we need them to start rebounding the ball. Grant is a guy that should be averaging 10 rebounds a game.”
For as good as Williams’ sophomore year was last season, he only totaled 10 or more rebounds in a game three times in 35 total appearances. Williams averaged six rebounds a game, but teammate Admiral Schofield, who measures two inches shorter than Williams, averaged more rebounds a game (6.4) than Williams last season and had more games with double-digit rebounds (4) as well.
Grant Williams is one of the best players in the SEC. But his head coach isn’t going to let him get a big head because of his accolades, and he’s demanding more than just “good enough” from the reigning SEC Player of the Year.