The University of Tennessee junior is currently trying to extend his legacy even further
Tennessee power forward Grant Williams was given the honor after a remarkable 2017-2018 season, but the 6-foot-7, 236-pound junior is hardly finished. As this season winds down, Williams is again being mentioned as a likely candidate for the same prestigious award. If he wins it, he will join an elite group of players who have won it more than once.
The first to ever be named SEC Player of the Year following the 1964-65 season, Clyde Lee, was also the first to win it two consecutive times. The 6’10” forward led Vanderbilt to its first SEC championship in his junior year, averaging 22 points and 15.5 rebounds a game, so he was naturally named the conference player of the year. His senior season, Lee averaged 22.7 points and 15.8 rebounds and won the award again. He was also named an All-American. Lee was later selected as the third overall pick in the 1966 NBA Draft by the San Francisco Warriors and played with the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers as well.
A few years later, the great Pete Maravich tore up the SEC like no one before him. “Pistol Pete” is considered one of the greatest college players ever, and his numbers prove it. At LSU from 1967-1970, the skinny 6’5”, 197-pound shooting guard scored 3,667 points and averaged 44.2 per game, becoming one of only two players to be named SEC Player of the Year three times. Maravich was drafted third overall in the 1970 draft by the Atlanta Hawks and later played with the New Orleans/Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics.
Bernard King, a 6’7” small forward, who played at Tennessee like Williams, was the only other player to win it three times. From 1974-77, King averaged 25.8 points per game and finished his career with 1,962 points and 1,004 rebounds. King was named conference player of the year his freshman and sophomore seasons, and shared the award with teammate Ernie Grunfeld his junior year with the Vols. King was drafted seventh overall by the New York Nets in 1977 and had an impressive career that lasted until 1993 with the Nets, the Utah Jazz, the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks, the Washington Bullets, and finally the Nets again.
The list of players to win the award twice includes Kevin Grevey, Reggie King, Dale Ellis, Kenny Walker, Chris Jackson (who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Shaquille O’Neal, and Corliss Williamson. It looks quite intimidating, and it should because only the best are named SEC Player of the Year. And only the elite win it more than once.
So, how does Williams stack up against these greats? That remains to be seen, but so far this season, Williams is making a good case to add his name to the list of double winners. Williams surpassed his sophomore season total 531 points and 211 rebounds when the Vols defeated Ole Miss 73-71 in late February. After beating Mississippi State 71-54 in early March, Williams has 573 points, a 19.1 average, and 229 rebounds. With quite a bit more ball to be played, those stats should improve considerably before season’s end.
But other players are challenging Williams for the bragging rights this year. Mississippi State’s talented guard Quinndary Weatherspoon is currently making his senior season one to remember by arguably playing his best ball yet. Weatherspoon is following closely behind Williams with 553 points, an average of 18.4 ppg, and Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree also currently has 553 points, averaging 18.4 ppg as well. But for now, Williams still looks to be the favorite.
With Williams leading the way, Tennessee is one of the most dominant teams in the nation and is expected to be a major factor in the postseason.
But will it all be enough for Williams to break the 24-year string since Williamson was named the last multiple winner and join the elite ranks of “Pistol Pete,” Bernard, Shaq and the six others who have won the award at least twice? Hold tight. We’ll find out soon enough. H&A
Cover photo by Al Blanton