KNOXVILLE — Tennessee freshman Grant Williams recorded his third double-double in four games with 16 points and 10 rebounds to help the Volunteers rally past Alabama on Saturday.
The 6-foot-5 forward also blocked three shots to increase his season total to 60 and match the second-highest single-season total in program history.
Williams finished the regular season as Tennessee's second-leading scorer (he led the Vols in scoring in Southeastern Conference play), top rebounder and blocks leader, but his coach remains, well, not so impressed.
After Saturday's win, Rick Barnes said Williams "really hasn't" exceeded expectations.
"I'm still disappointed in him," Barnes continued, "I really am — I'm not kidding you — because I think he's tougher than he's shown. I think he's too emotional. I think he's too immature. I think he can be so much better.
"He's done things that people didn't expect, but I'm telling you, we thought he could come in here and be freshman of the year in this league. That's what we thought. But you can't do that unless you're tough and you can handle the ups and downs of it."
As Barnes spoke, Williams, sitting on a table next to teammate Admiral Schofield in the media room, was smiling.
"You take it to heart and you try to show him you're not a disappointment," Williams explained later. "You just try to prove him wrong and play harder than what he expects. He's not doing it to put you down. He's not doing it to mess with your head. He's just trying to get you to be the best man and the best player you can be."
Williams has proven himself to be one of the best freshmen in the SEC, and he could land on the league's all-freshman team announced this week ahead of the start of the conference tournament Wednesday in Nashville. Kentucky's trio of Bam Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk plus Texas A&M's Robert Williams — who ranks second in the SEC in rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage — are certain to make the list, but Williams should be on it, too.
Williams ranks 16th in rebounding and fifth in blocks, and his 14.2-point scoring average in SEC games — boosted by nine games with at least 15 points and 25- and 30-point outbursts against Missouri and SEC tournament opponent Georgia — places him 14th among the conference-only statistical leaders.
The former three-star recruit out of North Carolina also has earned respect across the league with his style of play.
"He's relentless," Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. "He's a young kid that never gives up. You see him never really complaining to officials out on the court. I'm sure Coach Barnes's standpoint, he's probably just a joy to coach because he puts on his hard hat. It doesn't matter to him how undersized he may be. I've watched 10 of their games this year leading up to this game, and he's just a fighter, man. And he works hard inside. What he lacks for in size, he makes up with heart and physicality and toughness and just that no-quit attitude."
However, Barnes continually challenges Williams in practice and with comments to the media because of the potential he sees in him.
"I have higher expectations for myself," Williams said.
Barnes attributes occasional struggles for Williams to focusing too much on scoring at times. Though Williams has proven to be an effective scorer despite his height, relying on it too much can negatively affect him as a defender and rebounder. The talent is there, Barnes believes, to be an all-around impact player.
"To be the player I think he should be, he should be really consistent," Barnes said. "He's competitive, but I think he's got to get more competitive. I think's he got to continue to get in great shape. People will look at him and you guys will say that he's had a great year as you look at the numbers.
"But I'm telling you, I think he can be so much better. And he will get better, because I'm going to kill him. I probably shouldn't use that term. I think he can be a really special player, but he's got to mature. That's the bottom line. He's got to mature mentally."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.