In 1996, the Boston Celtics selected Tennessee’s Steve Hamer in the second round, 38th overall. The Celtics hadn’t made the playoffs the previous three seasons; the Vols hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in seven years. Hamer averaged 2.2 points per game on the worst Celtics team in history in 1997, and that was it.
It’s a rare and special thing when the pro team you love takes a Tennessee Vol. The only one that really stands out for me is the Titans taking Albert Haynesworth in 2002, which worked out well for all involved. Others have made their way to my favorite teams like Travis Henry and R.A. Dickey. But getting a player you love on a team you love from day one is special.
Williams, we all know, is special. Tennessee’s draft history is sparse since Hamer all those years ago. Ed Gray and Marcus Haislip went in the first round but didn’t stick around, and neither ascended to all-time Vol status while on campus. Tobias Harris is still fun to watch and is finally on a competitive team, but he was a one-and-done. Josh Richardson has become the leading scorer on a great franchise, but did it in continually-surprising fashion from the 40th pick in the draft.
I thought before tonight that Williams would have a chance to have the biggest day-one following for a Tennessee basketball player since Allan Houston. The Vols haven’t had great luck with their players going to NBA teams that are overly lovable: Haislip and Harris to the Bucks, Richardson to the Heat just after LeBron. Even going back to Dale Ellis, who started in Dallas then went to Seattle, NBA Vols haven’t stuck in regionally-friendly environments. Jarnell Stokes had a chance in Memphis but it didn’t work out.
So in this way, Grant Williams and Allan Houston are again similar: Houston went to the Detroit Pistons in 1993, when they still had Dumars, Isiah, and Laimbeer on the roster. For some of us, those guys were hard to like. Likewise, some of you won’t get the warm fuzzies about Grant going to the 17-time world champs; the Celtics inspire strong feelings.
But – if Williams sticks and isn’t caught up in any Danny Ainge shenanigans – it’s a great opportunity. Believe me, the Celtics are ready for more guys who know their role and play it well, and Williams has a chance to help everyone around him get better. It was quite the dichotomy this year being a Celtics fan and a Tennessee fan. The one impossibly talented and a favorite to make the NBA Finals, collapsing under its own weight and chemistry issues. The other a team full of three-stars, imposing its will on college basketball and its heart on Vol Nation for the rest of our lives.
The Celtics can use more of guys like Grant Williams. And we already know how rare guys like Grant Williams truly are. You may not be able to love the Celtics, I get that. But I have no doubt you’ll continue to love Grant Williams, and I’m hopeful it will be in ways that inspire a little more green and white in Big Orange Country for years to come.
Man, this pick made me smile. Go Vols.