Charlotte Hornets

Providence Day’s Grant Williams already finds his footing as Boston Celtics’ rookie

New Boston Celtics draft pick Grant Williams celebrated with his mother, Teresa Johnson, at a special draft party Thursday in Ballantyne
New Boston Celtics draft pick Grant Williams celebrated with his mother, Teresa Johnson, at a special draft party Thursday in Ballantyne lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Grant Williams’ seat on the Boston Celtics bench Thursday night will be only slightly better than the first time he saw an NBA game at Spectrum Center.

That was when Williams, now a Celtics’ rookie, was a Charlotte teenager, and a schoolmate at Providence Day, Kase Diehl, had his grandfather’s courtside seats. Williams sat a row in front of rapper J. Cole, so close he could virtually touch Hornets’ forward Marvin Williams along the baseline.

Over the next six years, Williams grew from a pudgy kid to a national player of the year candidate at Tennessee. He then became a first-round pick with the Celtics, averaging 17 minutes as a rookie.

He still hasn’t totally wrapped his head around this.

“Very odd. I wonder when it will stop hitting me,” Williams said, sitting in the visiting locker room before the Hornets-Celtics tip-off.

“When you’re playing in college it’s like, ‘OK, that’s cool.’ Then, you’re playing in the NBA and it’s like ‘Guys are talented, but I’m competing.’ But then out of nowhere it just hits me: You look to your left and say, ‘Oh, Kemba (Walker) is putting on his jersey.’

“In your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this dude has got to be old! He’s got to be 36 or 37!’ And then (you realize) he’s 29. He’s only nine years older than me.”

A 6-7 forward, Williams has played in all six of Boston’s games, averaging 3.8 points and 2.7 rebounds. As the 22nd overall pick, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Williams is assigned some this season to the Celtics’ G-League affiliate in Maine. But he’s not surprised he’s worked his way into the rotation so far.

“I always felt confident in myself and my ability,” Williams said. “I feel like I was very prepared at Tennessee to do a lot of great things.

“For Brad (Stevens, the Celtics’ coach) and these guys to trust me and put me in a position to help this team win is all I can ask for. Whether I’m playing 15 or 30 minutes or five, I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

Williams loves being a professional athlete, but he’s never allowed himself to be defined just by basketball. Intellectually curious about a range of topics, he flirted with attending Yale before picking Tennessee.

Williams estimated Thursday morning that about 500 family and friends — most of them connected to Providence Day — would attend the game. He feels an obligation to be a role model back in Charlotte for chasing big dreams.

“To be able to come back to the community I was raised in, and show not only kids, but people, that there is hope,” Williams said. “If you work hard and just grind it out, you can accomplish great things.”

He already recognizes ex-Hornet Walker — humble, accessible — as someone to emulate.

“He’s just a normal guy you can communicate with,” Williams said.

“Hopefully, it will be the same way for me when they say, ‘Oh, (man), that’s Grant Williams!’”

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.
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