Brian Williams is one of the winningest players in University of Tennessee basketball history. During his freshman year, the team was ranked number one in the nation for the first time in school history. During his junior year, he helped lead Tennessee to the Elite Eight, the furthest the school had ever gone. In the NCAA Tournament, he averaged over 10 rebounds per game including a nine point, 12 rebound performance against Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen.
This past year, he was voted the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year, and led UT to another NCAA appearance. I caught up with Williams at Nets’ workouts this week to talk Bruce Pearl, road games and Rocky Top:
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Dime: Tennessee went to the Elite Eight in 2010. Describe what it was like to be part of the best team in UT history.
Brian Williams: That is something that I can take away for the rest of my life. I even got a ring from it. As you said it’s the first time in Tennessee history that’s been done, and to be one point away from the Final Four. There are definitely some things we could take away from that experience as a team. I’m grateful for that opportunity I had to be a part of something special.
Dime: You played a huge role in that tournament, it was kind of like your coming-out party. Talk about your impact during that time.
BW: I was under the radar. Out of the starting five I was definitely the least known out of that group. During the Tournament, and even the SEC Tournament, though I definitely stepped it up. I averaged over 10 rebounds per game in the NCAA’s. I essentially hit the game-winner against Ohio State. Jon Diebler (who also worked out for the Nets today) gave me some stuff about that earlier. I’ve still got the tape of that game that I’m watching just to give me confidence.
Dime: You were involved in that incident (four UT players were arrested for drug and gun possession charges including Williams) earlier in 2010, and said you are the most hated player on the Vols, but that you loved playing that part, why is that?
BW: If you ask any player there is no better feeling than silencing the crowd when they are already screaming your name and taunting you. I know during warm-ups people are always screaming and yelling at me, and I’m used to it. I actually shoot 70 percent on the road so I love it a lot, I’m not taking anything away from the feeling I get playing on the road. I’ve even got fans on the road. Someone even brought me flowers one time that’s how much I love the road. I had a great run, a great four years at the University of Tennessee, and I plan on going back there to visit as much as I can.
Dime: Has that incident come up at all during the process and followed you around?
BW: People have asked about it, it’s something that is always going to be in my life. As much as people may think of it as a downfall or a question mark about me, I think it helped make me a better person and the person I am today.
Dime: You were the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year this past season. What made you so effective in that role for UT?
BW: I came off the bench a lot of times during the season when our first unit struggled. Coming off the bench it gave me a lot of new opportunities offensively that I wouldn’t get with the first unit, and I think with that second unit we brought defense and we brought toughness. It also gave me a better wind going into that first time out.
Dime: The team got off to a very strong start this season including winning the preseason NIT and a win at Pittsburgh, but faded late. How much further could that team have gone this season?
BW: We had a lot of expectations after we beat the teams that we beat early on. Obviously those are high-caliber teams and we were just playing great basketball. It was just inconsistency as a team that got us in a place that we didn’t want to be in. There’s nobody else to blame but us as players.