Charlotte native drawn to Vols by Barnes, fan base

A combination of coaching relationships, facilities and fandom led senior big man Grant Williams to Tennessee.

Grant Williams and Tennessee assistant coach Desmond Oliver have a relationship that exceeds Oliver's brief time in Knoxville. While the first-year Vols coach has only been on staff with Rick Barnes since the spring, he's been in contact with the Scout three-star power forward since he was but a young freshman in Charlotte. 

Oliver, who was an assistant at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for the first three years of Williams' high school career, kept in contact with his desired recruit for years and, when he made the move to coach at Tennessee, continued building their relationship that would eventually end with Williams signing with the Vols Nov. 14. This budding friendship, chief among a host of other deciding factors, helped lead the future Vol to Knoxville above finalists Princeton and Yale.

 “He knows how much of a good kid I am and I know how much of a good man he is as well," Williams told InsideTennessee. "We have a good relationship, like a family. He’s one of the guys I can call if I need to talk or if I need advice on something. We just have that type of bond that most players would love to have with their coaches.”

While Oliver served as Williams' main recruiter, head coach Rick Barnes was also a major player. Barnes' pedigree of coaching future NBA prospects, including superstar Kevin Durant, as well as his teachable, hands-on coaching style served as a significant draw to the new Tennessee big man. 

 “I talked to him a lot throughout the process," Williams said. "We had a lot of personal calls. We talked a lot and he’s really given me a sense of confidence in myself that I’ve never had before. He knows that I can be one of the best players, as well as one of the top players in the nation. He said he wants to work with me, and also we're really going to be interacting with each other. He’s going to be hands-on more than just some other guy … Rick Barnes is one of those guys who wants to get in the gym with you and wants you to get better.”

Coaching relationships are often cited as the main reason why players choose schools, but Williams also enjoyed how close Knoxville was to his native Charlotte and playing in a notable conference like the SEC.

"The fact that the school was close to home so my grandma, my mom and my family could come see my games (was big), as well as the fact that it’s one of the top conferences in the nation," Williams told IT. "As well as the academic system, so I can achieve my goals through that network as well.”

 Williams called the fan base a "huge" factor in his decision to attend Tennessee and raved about the support he's already received from Vol supporters throughout his recruitment process. What he saw in Knoxville was a rabid fan base that wants to root for anything orange.

"The fans are amazing," he said. "They show so much love, not only for football, but for basketball also. Lots of people think of the SEC as a football conference and everybody wants to go see a football game. Not at Tennessee. Everybody wants to come to every game, no matter if it’s soccer all the way up to basketball or football.”

As for his on-court ability, the Providence Day School standout utilizes an aggressive mentality on the boards and a solid stroke with high basketball IQ, though he wants to improve his speed and defense.

“The best thing from me is my leadership and my motor, as well as my basketball IQ," Williams said. "Those are my top three things. One thing I need to work on is my lateral quickness and defensively on the wing, “

Barnes was as drawn to Williams as the senior was to Tennessee, and the two both ended the class of 2016 recruitment process with smiles. 

"Grant will give us a unique combination of power and skill," Barnes said in a school release. "His skill set has the potential to make him a difficult matchup for most frontline defenders. We also love his high basketball IQ and the energy he brings to the floor, so we're very excited."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories