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Vols’ Grant Williams hungry for improvement

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee forward Grant Williams wasn’t quite satisfied with a freshman season in which he dramatically outperformed his recruiting ranking.

Williams, who wasn’t rated as one of the nation’s top 150 prospects in his signing class, topped the Volunteers in rebounds (5.9) and was his team’s second-leading scorer (12.6) last season.

But he couldn’t get Tennessee into the NCAA Tournament, as the Vols haven’t produced a winning season since their 2014 Sweet 16 appearance.

Tennessee’s absence from the NCAAs left him hungry for postseason success and apparently changed his appetite in other ways as well. The 6-foot-5 sophomore says he reduced carbohydrates from his diet and already notices a difference.

“I feel like I can move better,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m just running better. I look better. I feel in general I can jump a little higher and my body has adapted to the college game. When I came in, I was roly-poly man.”

Williams says he arrived on campus last summer weighing “257 (or) a little bit higher maybe” before he got down to the 232-234 range during the season. He’s working to reduce his body fat percentage as he attempts to sustain his energy on the floor and stay effective for longer stretches.

The change became apparent during his mother’s recent visit to campus.

Williams’ mom, Teresa Johnson, shopped for groceries and brought her son steak kabobs, pasta and Buffalo wings. Williams told her to take all those items back to her Houston home because he couldn’t eat them.

“He has committed to the program and has maintained it,” Johnson said. “No matter how we might want to get him into rice, gravy and potatoes, he says, ‘No, I can’t have that.'”

Williams inherited that discipline from each of his parents. His mother, a NASA engineer, taught her children to have a variety of interests.

When he wasn’t playing basketball, Williams was entering academic competitions or studying music. Williams says he used to play as many as nine instruments and remains proficient with the piano, violin and clarinet. He’s planning to expand his musical repertoire eventually.

“I want to learn how to play the guitar and I want to learn how to play the saxophone,” Williams said.

Williams considered Yale and Princeton as well as Richmond before signing with Tennessee out of Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Although Williams wasn’t a heralded recruit, Williams emerged as one of Tennessee’s top players in his freshman season.

His 61 blocked shots represented the second-highest single-season total in school history. His 402 points ranked sixth among all Tennessee freshmen ever.

He wanted more.

“I feel like I could have played better,” Williams said. “I feel there are a lot of things I missed out on. I could have played a lot harder at the beginning of the year, especially. I feel like every freshman has regrets.”

The next step is becoming more effective away from the basket. Williams believes he’s improved his ball-handling and has developed into a more consistent shooter. He’s working to show he can defend guards and wings on occasion.

His willingness to expand his game exemplifies the leadership skills Williams must utilize to boost a team whose only senior is Howard graduate transfer James Daniel III.

“He’s not acting like a freshman or a sophomore,” junior forward Kyle Alexander said. “He’s acting like a senior.”

Williams understands his improved versatility requires him to get in better shape. He won’t be able to defend quicker players if he’s still that self-described “roly-poly man” who arrived on campus last year.

That’s why he rejected some of his mother’s groceries as emphatically as he swatted away shots last season.

“The food looks good, but I just can’t do it,” Williams said. “I’ve got to stick to my diet.”

Report: North Carolina won’t attend White House

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After capturing a national championship earlier this year, the North Carolina men’s basketball team will not be visiting the White House, a North Carolina spokesman said to Andrew Carter of the The Charlotte Observer.

Although the Tar Heels were invited to go to the White House from the staff of President Donald Trump, the team couldn’t figure out a date that worked.

“We couldn’t find a date that worked for both parties,” North Carolina team spokesman Steve Kirschner said to Carter. “We tried about eight or nine dates and between they couldn’t work out that date, we couldn’t work out that date, so – we would have liked to have gone, but not going.”

According to Carter’s report, Kirschner also said that North Carolina players, “were fine with going.”

With Trump’s recent comments towards NFL players and the national anthem and his Saturday morning tweet at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the President with regards to athletes over the past 24 hours.

Although the timing of this may seem like North Carolina is making some sort of political statement, the school is downplaying any sort of politics by focusing on the bad timing.

Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer

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Xavier freshman forward Jared Ridder will transfer from the program to move closer to home, according to a release from the school.

The 6-foot-7 Ridder hails from Springfield, Missouri as he was regarded as a top-150 prospect by Rivals in the Class of 2017.

“After much consideration and talking with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to move home,” Ridder said in the release.

“Jared has indicated to the coaching staff that he has a desire to be closer to home,” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “While we are disappointed, we all want Jared to be happy moving forward. We wish him nothing but the best.”

A potent scorer and noted perimeter shooter at the high school level, Ridder helped MoKan win the Nike Peach Jam during the summer of 2016 playing alongside talented players like Missouri’s Michael and Jontay Porter and Oklahoma’s Trae Young. With a desire to move closer to home, could Ridder potentially land at a spot where one of his talented former teammates is playing?

Ridder averaged 24.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists during his senior season of high school ball at Kickapoo as he was a first-team, All-State selection in Missouri.

Four-star 2018 forward Ian Steere decommits from Creighton

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Creighton took a big hit to its recruiting efforts late this week as Class of 2018 forward Ian Steere is decommitting from the Bluejays, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Steere’s decommitment was first reported by Julius Kim of Elevate Hoops.

The 6-foot-8 Steere is considered a four-star prospect by Rivals as he is coming off of a very solid spring and summer playing with Team Charlotte in the Under Armour Association. A plus athlete who isn’t afraid to bang on the interior, Steere showing an improving skill level throughout the spring and summer as he could see his recruiting soar after opening things up.

According to a report from Jon Nyatawa of the World-Herald, one of the reasons that Steere is opening up his recruitment is his desire to be closer to his native North Carolina. With so many top programs looking for quality help on the interior, it’ll be interesting to see which programs jump in and try to recruit Steere the second time around.

John Wall emotional in Kentucky Hall of Fame induction speech

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John Wall was inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night as he delivered an emotional speech while talking to his mother.

The first inductee into the Hall of Fame to play for current Wildcat head coach John Calipari, Wall only spent the 2009-10 season in Lexington but he became the first national player of the year to play at Kentucky before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Thanking his mother, Calipari, his family, friends and Big Blue Nation, the Washington Wizards guard gave a very moving speech, including an emotional part directed to his mother at around 4:35.

Ohio State snags third 2018 commitment in a week with four-star guard Luther Muhammad

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Ohio State continued a strong week on the recruiting trail on Friday night by landing a commitment from Class of 2018 guard Luther Muhammad.

Regarded as a four-star prospect, the 6-foot-4 Muhammad is a tough and rugged perimeter defender who can attack the basket. Also showing some ability to play on the ball as a secondary handler, Muhammad is a very solid addition to Ohio State’s recruiting class since they need to overhaul their roster under new head coach Chris Holtmann.

Muhammad is the third player to commit to the Buckeyes in the Class of 2018 this week as he joins four-star forward Jaedon LeDee and three-star guard Duane Washington in the current Ohio State recruiting class. Since Washington is a three-point threat and Muhammad is more of an off-the-bounce specialist, the two guards are a good start for Ohio State in this class as they will likely try to find a true floor leader to play with them on the perimeter.