Williams Says Leaving Vols Early was “One of the Toughest Decisions I’ve Made”

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    RTI contributor Adam McCracken is the author of this article 

    After weeks of deliberating about his future, Tennessee forward and two-time SEC Player of Year Grant Williams announced that he was staying in the 2019 NBA draft a little over a week ago. Williams, who is forgoing his senior year at UT, took his time in deciding his future. But after receiving feedback from NBA scouts at workouts and the 2019 NBA Draft Combine, Williams’ decision became more simple for him.

    Williams sat down with Andy Katz of NCAA.com on his March Madness 365 podcast to discuss his decision to leave Tennessee early and go pro. Williams shared with Katz just how difficult of a choice he had in front of him.

    “It was definitely one of the toughest decisions I think I’ve made my entire life, because I love the people there at Tennessee, I love the University,” Williams said. “I knew there was more that I wanted to accomplish and more I could’ve done. But I also knew it was time to take the next step and pursue my dream, move on to the next journey.

    “Coach Barnes did a great job preparing me for this next step, the NBA, and I felt like it was just the time to make this step.”

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    Williams made it a point at the end of his junior season to work on becoming an even more complete player. One of the main questions with Williams’ game was his ability to knock down long-range shots. He did connect on 30 three-pointers during his time at UT and shot over 30 percent from three as a junior, but with him being viewed as an undersized power forward, scouts were looking at his ability to stretch the floor.

    Though he didn’t overwhelm anyone during game action at the combine, Williams answered some of those questions by showing an improved and consistent jump shot, and it seems scouts like what they saw as well.

    “Teams were giving me positive feedback, being able to be picked early in the draft,” Williams said when asked about the deciding factor between returning to Tennessee and going pro. “I think the teams were very interested throughout the process. I got some great feedback and talked to a lot of people around (the NBA), made a lot of great connections. So I felt like it was the right time. I felt like the teams I was discussing with, they were great teams in location, to be able to both play right away and go to a winning culture and impact the culture there.

    “For me, it was just a matter of understanding what I value and also the value that teams took in me, the worth they had in me.”

    Williams will leave UT with a very decorated college career. The Charlotte, North Carolina native was voted an All-SEC Freshman performer in his first year at Tennessee, won two SEC Player of the Year awards, and was named a 2019 consensus First-Team All-American and a 2019 Naismith Player of the Year finalist. Williams’ No. 2 jersey will likely be retired and will hang in the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters sometime in the future.

    From his multiple clutch shots to his 43-point effort against Vanderbilt to his gator chomp in Gainesville, Williams accomplished more in his three seasons than most do in a college career. And the living Vol legend won’t soon forget his three-plus years in Knoxville.

    “Honestly, it’s something that I look back that I’m thankful for,” Williams stated when asked about his time at UT. “I was blessed to go to the University of Tennessee, and I feel like there are a lot of great friends that I made at the University of Tennessee. I have lifelong connections that I made, so the University of Tennessee impacted my life in every way possible, on and off the court. It allowed me to become the player I am today and the man I am as well.

    “I was able to earn my degree in three years. Being around friends that pushed me on and off the court to be the best man that I can be, it was just the best of everything in every world that it could be.”

    Though Tennessee basketball will be left without one of their leaders next season, Vol fans surely understand the decision Williams has made. Williams has done more than enough for the program while he rose above and beyond his three-star ranking as a recruit. He only received 11 offers out of high school, with only four being from Power Five conferences.

    Now, the once unheralded recruit seems to be going anywhere from a late lottery pick to a late first-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft.

    Williams’ rebounding skills, post presence, passing ability, and overall play-making ability will make one team very happy come draft time. But his leadership, basketball IQ, and gritty work ethic will make that team one of the luckier squads to inherit Tennessee’s “Peanut Butter.”

    The 2019 NBA Draft will be held on June 20th in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.