By Jimmy Hyams
Perhaps Grant Williams wanted to go higher in the NBA draft than No. 22, but he couldn’t have found a better home.
That’s the opinion of Williams’ college coach and a coach who knows Boston’s coach.
“I love that Grant is going to play for Brad Stevens,’’ said Rick Byrd, recently retired coach at Belmont in Nashville. “Brad is one guy that I know well at that level and he will totally appreciate what Grant Williams brings to the floor. No doubt in my mind. I think that is a great matchup for him.’’
Byrd, a Knoxville native, never played against Williams. But he saw Tennessee’s two-time SEC player of the year plenty of times.
“I am a big Grant Williams fan,’’ Byrd said. “He just finds a way. He’s a winner, tough as nails, good kid, smart kid. I think that Brad Stevens is going to love him.
“I do think that Brad Stevens is going to value (Williams’ basketball I.Q.) more than some coaches would.’’
Byrd said that Williams is the “a kind of guy that you ask, what kind of position does he play in the NBA? He is going to have to find a way to do some things that he hasn’t done before.’’
Like Byrd, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes thinks Boston and Stevens are the perfect fit for Williams, a three-star recruit out of high school that had offers from the Ivy League and Charlotte – not from the ACC or any other SEC school than Tennessee.
“I’ve said this to anybody over the years,’’ Barnes said, “Grant Williams is one of the most intelligent basketball IQ guys that you could ever want to be around.
“I do think the schemes that Brad runs, Grant will fit in perfectly and will pick them up probably as well as anyone he’s ever coached.’’
Barnes said on UT fast breaks, Williams became our “second guard’’ and had a keen ability to see the floor and the plays developing and call out “things that would help everybody’’ because he knew the scouting report.
Barnes said you could give Williams multiple options – not just one or two – and “he can get it done. And as the game goes on, he generates a feel for the game and he knows which way he needs to go.’’
Williams knew where to go when he first arrived at Tennessee – the treadmill.
“We call it Fat Camp,’’ Barnes said in his frank but sometimes not so diplomatic way.
Once Williams lost weight and got into shape, Barnes made the comment when Williams was a freshman that Williams had the potential to be the SEC Player of the Year.
Few people outside of Barnes – perhaps not even Williams – believed that could happen.
But it did. Twice.
When did Barnes realize Williams could be a first-round NBA draft pick?
“I’m not sure if you ever know,’’ Barnes admitted. “I’ve watched guys I’ve coached and thought when we recruited them, that guys had a chance to be an NBA player. And you know what, they don’t make it because they don’t love it. They don’t have a passion for it.
“Then you get a group of guys you think they’re not talented enough, and they surprise you because they have a passion and they continue to work.’’
Williams fits into the latter category.
The next step for Williams is improving his outside shot. The fact he hit 82 percent of his free throws his junior year gives credence to his potential as a 3-point shooter.
“I think anybody can become a good outside shooter,’’ Barnes said.
Well, maybe not Shaquille O’Neal, but you get the point.
While Barnes doesn’t like to compare players, he said Williams and P.J. Tucker – an NBA player Barnes coached at Texas – had one thing in common coming out of high school.
“They were both fat and overweight and out of shape,’’ Barnes said.
Each also played on AAU teams that won, often beating teams that had McDonald’s All-Americans.
Barnes credits UT assistant Desmond Oliver for “never wavering’’ on Williams, and recruiting the Charlotte native since the ninth grade.
“Desmond said, `Coach, he’s a winner, and he’s more athletic than people know,’’’ Barnes recalled.
People know now. And now, Williams has a chance to prove it at the next level under a coach who appreciates his basketball skills and IQ.