As a little-used 6-10, 367-pound reserve for a relatively unheralded team, Williams could only imagine the thrill of competing against such talented players. He can stop imagining when Tennessee and Louisville tip it up at 9:57 p.m. Thursday in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at Charlotte Bobcat Arena.
Having shed 100 pounds in the past two years, Williams is now a relatively svelt 267-pound college freshman. He also is a key backup for the Vols, who are 31-4 and seeded No. 2 in the region. Sosa, Palacios and Clark are big-time players for the Cardinals, who are 26-8 and seeded No. 3. Facing guys he once looked up to is sure to be a special thrill for Williams.
"Brian probably knows a lot of these guys but these guys probably don't know Brian," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said this week, adding that elite players such as Sosa, Palacios and Clark "weren't interested in Brian Williams" back on the Big Apple playgrounds.
"Brian probably knows all these guys and looked up to them," Pearl added. "But (to them) Brian Williams was probably ‘that fat kid that never got off the bench.'
"Well, he's not that any more. Brian has really come on. Our guys have great confidence in Brian."
No wonder. The trimmed-down Williams has been a surprisingly significant contributor for the Vols this season. He produced a 16-point, 14-rebound game against Western Kentucky and an 8-point, 8-rebound effort against UNC-Asheville in back-to-back December outings.
Williams contributed 6 points and 5 rebounds against Ohio State in January and matched those numbers against Auburn in February. He got his first career start vs. South Carolina in the regular-season finale, responding with 4 points and 5 rebounds in 14 solid minutes.
Williams followed with a 4-for-4 shooting performance in a 9-point, 3-rebound effort against South Carolina in the Vols' SEC Tournament opener. He came through again last Sunday in Tennessee's second-round NCAA Tournament game against Butler, contributing 3 points, 4 rebounds, an assist and a steal in 11 quality minutes.
"He's been a factor," Pearl said. "He's got a really good future. He's got a pretty good present, too."
Since Louisville may boast the finest front line Tennessee has faced all year, Williams and fellow post reserve Duke Crews will be crucial elements for the Vols in Thursday's Sweet 16 showdown. That's especially true since Wayne Chism, Tennessee's starting post, has been struggling with foul problems lately.
"Those two guys coming off the bench this weekend will be huge," Pearl said, referring to Williams and Crews. "With the quality, the depth and the way Louisville runs their offense through their front line, those guys are going to have to be big."
Chism, a 6-9, 243-pound sophomore, knows he'll need plenty of help from Williams and Crews – along with starting power forward Tyler Smith – against the tall and talented Louisville front line.
"Me, Tyler, Brian and Duke really have to step up big-time because we know our guards can shut some guards down when they feel like it," Chism said. "We've got to step up on the inside and try to win the battle of the boards. If we stay with them on the boards, I think we've got a chance to beat ‘em."