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Everything Grant Williams said about his transition to the NBA

Former Tennessee great and current Boston Celtics Grant Williams met with the Tennessee media recently to discuss his transition from Knoxville to the NBA.

Williams discussed why he is in Los Angeles, how his experience at Tennessee helped with his transition to the NBA, if he and Kevin Durant swapped any Rick Barnes stories, watching the Vols as a fan last year, and his role on the Boston Celtics.

Here’s everything Williams had to say:

On what he was doing before his media availability with the Tennessee media:

“Typically, I get to the Airbnb (in Los Angeles) around 1:30 or 1:45, and I was going to be able to sit down, set up and be comfortable in this chat. This morning, I played 1-on-1s with Chris Paul and OG Anunoby. Afterward, I went to go play pickup with KD (Kevin Durant), Kyrie (Irving) and all of those guys. That’s why I’m running late. The pickup ran over, and we played more games than I thought we were going to. We normally play six or seven. I think we played 10 today. Now I’m pulled over on the side of the road talking to you guys. Hopefully that’s not bad or anything.”

On transitioning from college basketball to the NBA:

“The toughest part of adapting is being able to be on your own. I feel like that’s kind of difficult. You don’t have the highs and lows. You have to be more focused on yourself. Coaches are there for you, but you’re also a professional now. They’re not going to walk with you, hand-in-hand. Coach (Rick) Barnes did a good job of keeping guys engaged and prepared. In the NBA, you have to be prepared yourself and have confidence in yourself. That’s something that’s always difficult.”

On the biggest difference between college and the NBA:

“The biggest thing was pace of the game, the speed and the talent of players. You don’t realize how talented these guys are until you’re playing against them 1-on-1 or up close and personal. I think that’s probably the most difficult thing, understanding the pace of the game. There’s six seconds less on the (shot) clock, as well as the talent that you’re guarding.”

On if he went up against anybody he admired growing up:

“I think that was more so with Draymond (Green). As everyone knows, when I was going through high school and college, he was my favorite player. I wanted to be in that role, so it was definitely a moment for me when I played against him for the first time. I’ve met him before, so playing against him is unique. With every other guy, it’s the competitor in me, and I want to take on the challenge. No matter who I was playing, there was a bunch of names like Giannis (Antetokounmpo) or Pascal (Siakam) and I was like, ‘I’m playing against them, cool. Let’s just compete and get this win.’ It was definitely and interesting time. This is my first time ever playing against KD and all of those guys. That’s unique. I never played Kyrie this year, either. Seeing the shots that they make and how talented of scorers they are, I’ve got nothing but respect for them.”

On how his experience at Tennessee helped prepare him for the NBA:

“I feel like coach always used to say I couldn’t guard anybody or ‘guard a soul.’ The next thing you know, I’m labeled as a defender in the NBA. I think that’s the thing that was the funny part to me. He prepared me with the discipline of not only focusing on game plans but being prepared in film. That’s the biggest thing I took away from Tennessee, was how prepared he had me for not only professional living, but the game itself. I know that was a chuckle moment for me when everybody kept saying how good of a defender I was, how good I was doing and how much I communicate. I look back and say, ‘Dang, coach Barnes didn’t even want to nominate me for (SEC) defensive team.”

On if he sent the video clip of his defensive play against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Rick Barnes:

“I didn’t. Hopefully somebody else did, though. That’s a big-time play for a big-time moment. Hopefully he can say, ‘Okay, he’s an average defender now.’ Maybe I’ll never get that out of coach Barnes, but hopefully I’ll find a way.”

On the defensive play that helped the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Finals:

“It was definitely an impactful play, just because I had just missed two free throws (right before that). I also had a 3-point shot cashed out in my face. So first, you missed two free throws, and then you gave up a three? That would have been rough. The fact that I got the block—although I didn’t get credited for it—and we got the stop, that’s a big-time moment for me. If you think about the Eastern Conference semifinals, that’s a dream as a child. Playing against guys as talented as Fred (VanVleet), Kyle Lowry and those guys with the Raptors is always cool. It’s definitely one of those moments for me that took me over the top for the next series, as well.”

On if he and Kevin Durant have shared any stories about Rick Barnes:

“We did in the past, but not more recently. I remember the first time I ever met KD, he asked me about coach Barnes. Every time that I was playing defense yesterday and I kept getting stops or I kept being physical with the fives that were there, like Bruno (Fernando) and Clint Capela, they would say, ‘We know you played for coach Barnes.’ They said it jokingly about the physicality and type of play I was playing with. That was the joke about having coach Barnes as a person that was in both of our lives.”

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On what life in the NBA bubble was like:

“It was definitely a unique experience. I enjoyed it because I’m a homebody in the first place. I don’t really do much, anyway. I got the camaraderie of guys all around me was able to play cards, board games or video games. I made a lot of great relationships. Most of the time, I didn’t get anyone to play Catan. There were people playing, but they had their group already. It was the Denver Nuggets, Mason Plumlee and all of those guys. They had their whole staff playing, basically. Every time somebody dropped out, I was trying to get in. They basically had people on call. That was tough, but the game of choice for us was Spades. I think it was me, Kyle (Alexander) — who was in the bubble with me — Jamal Murray and Chris Silva were in our group most of the time. We went up and played cards together most of the time. It was a great experience. I think the first couple of days, as everyone said, the food was definitely different, but I wasn’t complaining. It tasted good, but the presentation was different. Let’s just say that the bubble definitely got better as time went on. At the very end, you do miss your family. That’s something I do struggle with, but outside of that I thought it was a plus.”

On the mental adjustment of going from Tennessee to the Celtics:

“That’s definitely something that I’m still adjusting to. You kind of don’t have the same feel, and the shots you may have made in college you’re not making because you don’t have the ball in your hands as much. People don’t really notice that as much, but it’s a very different, contrasting jump. I’m comfortable with it because I move the ball. But in terms of shooting, it definitely was kind of weird. Normally, you get a chance to feel the ball. You can take your time, and you know any shot is a good shot. Now, you have to make the right shot. And if you don’t take that shot, it’s a bad shot. That’s something you have to get accustomed to. I’m still learning how to be comfortable with the ball in my hands off a catch and being able to shoot it then, versus taking your time. That’s something that is definitely an adjustment, but I feel like I’ve gotten better at it as time has gone on.”

On how he developed a voice in the NBA this year:

“The way I found my voice was I never lost it. I was fortunate enough to be a rookie on the team where they allowed me to not only speak up, but be myself. Let’s just say that I always stay communicating. I communicate with guys the right way. They knew it was coming from the right place. I never try to disrespect anyone. I think that’s the biggest reason why I kind of had a role of not only leadership, but communication on the team from when I got there to where I was in the future. I try to have a light-hearted mentality and hopefully bring some smiles to guys’ faces day by day. I think that’s what made the experience so nice for me, especially the transition, because you’re going to a whole new team. You never know how it will be. They could make you be quiet because you’re a rookie. In your rookie year, you’re not supposed to say anything on most teams. For them to allow me to be myself was amazing.”

On what how he would tell the Tennessee players to attack this upcoming season:

“Just attack it day by day with the right mentality. We’re all going through the same uncertainty. You’re cautious of the security of others. You just have to go out there and compete because if you don’t, you’re going to be thinking about so many things on the outside that you can’t really control. I have embraced the saying, ‘Control the controllables.’ Be focused on the fact that you have the blessed opportunity to play this game. Make the most out of it. Don’t ever be down about it, because it’s a fortunate opportunity. It’s definitely going to be a unique situation that we’re all in, but hopefully we can tell these stories to our children or grandchildren in years and look back saying we persevered through it.”

On Yves Pons’ decision to return for his senior season:

“They benefit so much because of the fact that Fulky (John Fulkerson) and him bring veteran leadership and they know the system. They can teach the young guys. I feel like this is the youngest we’ve been in I don’t know how long. We’ve usually had a team full of guys that play most of the minutes that are either sophomores or juniors. For part of last year, we had Josiah (-Jordan James) as one of the freshmen, as well as Davonte Gaines, ‘Ticket.’ Outside of that, we still had Jalen Johnson, Jordan Bowden, Lamonté (Turner) for a period of time. Santi (Santiago Vescovi) having a year of experience is huge for us now. The whole team will hopefully not only be able to learn from (Yves and Fulky), but also grow together as a young team. They’re going to experience some woes throughout the year, but I’ve watched practice and I think the talent that is there that makes them a team to be really excited about. Lastly, when you think of Yves as a defensive player, he anchors that defense, as well as Fulky with his athleticism and his expansion in the offensive game. I’m excited to see how they perform. Keon Johnson is a talented kid. Jaden Springer is going to compete. Santi and Josiah are coming back. Victor Bailey Jr. is getting off of redshirting because of the transfer, so it’s going to be an interesting year for them, for sure.”

On why he’s been on the west coast:

“I’ve been on the west coast for six days, if that. I’m only here until Tuesday, and the only reason I came out here was to get my face scan done for (the video game NBA2K). I met these guys because I’ve kind of known a couple of them. I knew James (Harden) before, and we connected during the season. But it’s really because I’m training with Alex. He asked me if I wanted to play in runs. I said, ‘Sure, I want to play. Who’s playing?’ They said these names and I said, ‘Cool, that sounds good to me.’ The next thing you know, we’re playing and it’s don’t step off the court. The first time, I didn’t lose. We only lost one or two games. Today, we definitely lost a little bit more. That’s kind of how it goes with the talent you’re playing with. You see guys like Kyrie and other guys that are hitting tough shots. You’re like, ‘Wow. This is the level that we’re at. This is how the NBA works.'”

On his role in Brad Stevens’ system with the Boston Celtics:

“I think my role is whatever he tells me it is. Last year, it was just being a guy that kind of did everything for us, whether it was defending, knocking down open shots or just being there and being a great energy guy off the bench and always being ready in my role. For him, it’s just being myself and what I do is like a Swiss Army knife in being reliable in whatever you need. Whether you need to cut something or screw something in, or anything. I think that’s like my role. As a coach, he’s a tremendous person. That’s the first thing I’d say. He’s a genuine, kind-hearted soul. He also knows what he’s talking about on the court. That helps, too.”

On seeing John Fulkerson having such a successful season last year:

“Honestly, it almost made me tear up. Seeing Fulky not only persevere from what he was after his injury and seeing how he’s performing now like we all knew he was capable of. So, the fact that he’s expanded his role and being more confident in himself, that honestly makes means the world to me and everyone around him in Knoxville and the community. Even Coach Barnes probably teared up seeing how Fulky was playing. I think that everyone is happy for him and hoping that he repeats his success because he’s projected to be first team All-SEC. I think he can be the SEC Player of the Year. I think he’s capable and that’s something that he could do. I’m putting my confidence and bet on Fulky and betting my money on Tennessee as a team.”

On what is what like to watch Tennessee games as a fan last year:

“I relate to Vol fans, especially when it comes to basketball, football, softball, soccer, everything. I’m over here screaming at the t.v. even though I know the people, which is kind of weird because when you were there, you kind of were more focused more so on the sport yourself and were in a more cheerful role by commending people, telling them what they were doing well. I remember me and Josh Dobbs were over here screaming at the t.v. watching the game. I said, ‘We need to be better. That used to be us. People used to scream at us the whole time. I think that’s the unique part of switching over from being a player to more so a fan now.”

On if he ever talks about the Tennessee-Purdue with former Purdue guard Carson Edwards, who he is now teammates with:

“Any time we have somebody bring it up, we always joke about it, but he always says, not to expose anyone, but the ball definitely went off his foot before it went out-of-bounds. So, he shouldn’t have had the ball to get the foul anyway, in regulation. We definitely joke about that and he ended up having a tremendous March Madness run, which helped him get drafted by the team that we’re on. We wouldn’t be in this position if it didn’t happen, so I laugh at it and we talk about it, but it’s definitely still heartbreaking every now and then when you’ve closed the door and you’re not with him anymore. I’m like, ‘Dang, we could have gone on and moved even further.”

On his message to the Tennessee Soccer program, who beat South Carolina for the SEC Eastern Division title on Friday night:

“I want to say good luck because you all have had a great year. I’ve been keeping up. Erin (Gilroy), Jaida (Thomas) and everyone else on the team have been playing their butts off. I’m hoping that you guys pull it out. I think you guys are really talented and have a great opportunity. Make the most out of it, have fun and be who you are. Coach (Brian) Pensky, I’m here for you if you need me and also happy for you. I hope you do well.”

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