Tennessee’s Grant Williams on life before basketball

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Before devoting himself to basketball, Grant Williams was playing something entirely different.

“It reminds me of home to sit down at a piano,” Williams said. “It takes your mind off of things you may be worried about. You may have a stressful day of basketball, you may have a stressful day of school, but when you sit down and start playing music it allows you to just calm your mind.”

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The University of Tennessee junior forward and two-time SEC player of the year could opt for this year’s NBA draft. But he’s a lot more than just a well-rounded player, as “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson found out.

“My father loves music so every morning they woke up they heard ragtime, they heard jazz, they heard all sorts of music,” Grant’s mother, Teresa Johnson, said.

They were the Williams boys, with Grant being the youngest of three in the home. His curiosity as a little boy was enriched by a family that always encouraged him to try new things.

“Grant came here talking, mimicking, looking directly into your eyes trying to determine what you were saying and what you were doing,” Grant’s grandmother, Geraldine Johnson, said. “He was observant and just an alert little boy.”

“I definitely describe myself as a nerd because I love to learn,” Grant said. “It doesn’t have to be academic, it can be anything. You can teach me how to knit and I’ll sit down and try to learn with you.”

Growing up in North Carolina, Grant competed in national chess tournaments, played several instruments, studied three languages and performed in his high school musical.

But it was basketball that captured his heart. As a high school senior he led Providence Day to a state title, but he still fell under the recruiting radar.

“I looked at him and told him you can be president of the good kid club but with that said and done I’m going to be hard on you,” Rick Barnes, University of Tennessee’s head basketball coach, said.  “But from the first time he walked on this campus he realized that.”

Now in his junior year, Williams has emerged as one of the top players in the country. His volunteers were back to the NCAA tournament as a two-seed, and in the regular season, Tennessee was ranked No. 1 for four weeks. It was just the second time in school history the volunteers had been atop the college basketball standings.

You could say Grant Williams has been hitting all the right notes.

“We’ve always talked about leaving a legacy and that was one thing I said on my recruiting visit to coach Barnes, that I wanted to make an impact on the school, on you, and on your life,” Grant said. “And I want to be one of the guys that you always will talk about.

For coach Barnes, Grant is the type of player you hope for.

“He’s always said that he wants to be the best he can be and that’s what you want. Somebody who simply has their arms wide open and says, ‘Coach me and help me be everything I can be,” said Barnes.

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