Tennessee's Grant Williams plans to explore NBA possibilities

Tennessee forward Grant Williams celebrates after the Vols beat Kentucky 82-78 in their SEC tournament semifinal matchup last Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

KNOXVILLE - Grant Williams made the best decision Tuesday he could have made regarding his future.

But he also hinted that the decision he made Tuesday would not be his final answer.

The 6-foot-7 junior Tennessee forward announced his intention to test the NBA draft waters but left open the possibility he could return for his final college season once he's gone through NBA evaluations and received feedback from talent scouts and agents.

He planned to submit his paperwork Tuesday but has until May 29 to withdraw his name from consideration and retain his final year of eligibility at Tennessee.

"Who would have thought a chubby kid from Charlotte, North Carolina, would be doing this playing the game of basketball?" Williams said Tuesday. "I never could have imagined I would be here today, but over the last three years at the University of Tennessee I have made a ton of incredible memories on and off the court. I have been surrounded by and met a bunch of phenomenal people that have impacted my life in ways I couldn't have imagined.

"I have had a great experience with the NCAA and college basketball, and on top of that I want to have a great experience in professional basketball. It has been my dream since I was young to play in the NBA. I knew the decision I made needed to be my own. I had to trust myself but also leaned on my mother, father, my brothers and my coaches in order to make the most informed decision possible.

"It is my decision, and I have prayed on it. I have trusted in my heart and I have decided I will test the waters and enter the NBA draft process. I will not (yet) forgo my last season at the University of Tennessee, with the capability of coming back and finishing what I started here. This process helps me gather information as a player and helps me find out what I need to do to improve. I will use the new rules allowing a player to hire an agent to make the most informed decision possible. I will go through this process trying to gather as much information as possible, because it is a win-win scenario in both ways."

Williams averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in earning first-team All-America honors this past season. He ranks 12th all-time in scoring (1,629) for the Volunteers and third in blocks with 160, while having grabbed 678 rebounds. He has been voted the Southeastern Conference player of the year after each of the past two seasons and was a finalist this year for the Naismith Award, given to the top player in college basketball.

He becomes the second Volunteer to announce a decision to test the NBA process this offseason. Jordan Bone - Williams' roommate - declared for the draft last week. Admiral Schofield made a similar decision last season and chose to come back to Tennessee for his final season.

Williams showed perspective. He admitted that he needed to improve on his perimeter defense as well as consistently shooting 3-pointers "at a high level." He made a career-high 15 3s as a junior at a 32.6 percent clip, giving him 30 for his career.

He was in communication with coach Rick Barnes on multiple occasions Monday while Barnes was mulling over a multiyear offer from UCLA. Barnes ultimately chose to stay at Tennessee, which Williams said made his decision "easier."

If Williams were to come back, he'd join fellow 2019-20 seniors Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner (perhaps as well as Bone) as the core of the team. Incoming freshman guard Josiah James highlights a three-player signing class.

The 2018-19 Vols spent a month at No. 1 in the country and never fell out of the top 10, finishing at 10th in the coaches' poll released Tuesday. They wound up 31-6 in losing 99-94 to Purdue in the Sweet 16, and with the core returning as well as a solid recruiting class, the team could be just as good.

Does that matter?

"No doubt," Williams said. "There's always that (thought) process of there's more that we can do, more that we can accomplish. That's something that is always going to be in your mind throughout the process no matter what is going on. You have to understand that it's a win-win. If you come back, there's a lot more you can do as a team, and individually in the future it can be a win in that aspect as well."

Contact Gene Henley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.