Published March 2015
The extremely long infant was nearly three days old, and he still didn’t have a name on his birth certificate.
Gilbert Williams and Teresa Johnson had spent hours upon hours trying to come up with something to name the child, but they came up with nothing. Hospital officials were getting antsy to have all the paperwork completed, and the couple was starting to feel the pressure.
Finally, the eldest of the couple’s three boys, also named Gilbert, walked into the hospital room and saved the day.
“Mom, I think we should name my littlest brother Grant,” the precocious 6-year-old scribbled on a whiteboard. Mom was delighted and relieved.
“Grant just resonated with me,” Johnson recalled. “To me, Grant brought power, strength and courage.
It fell right in line, because I wanted each one of (my sons) to have a name of power and leadership.”
And that is how Grant Williams got his name.
He got his nickname a few days later.
“I began to say to him, ‘Good morning, General Grant! Hey General Grant,’” Johnson recalled. “He would just start talking back to me like he knew exactly what his name was. He just came into the world with this understanding, this command and presence. So I called him General.”
The nickname has stuck. And 16 years later, Grant Williams is still living up to the standards of his
Williams is a 6-foot-8 junior forward for Providence Day. At 240 pounds, he is powerful, and Chargers’ coach Brian Field said Williams is one of the leaders of the team, which also is one of the best squads in North Carolina.
The Chargers begin their pursuit of a state championship on February 26, and Williams knows it won’t be an easy task, even though Providence Day was ranked third in NCPrep.com’s private-school poll with a 24-4 record at the time US Preps went to press.
“I believed this was going to be a good year, and it has been,” Williams said. “I just had a feeling. I know it will be tough – definitely tough. But with my teammates all around me, helping me out, I think we can play well.”
AGAINST THE ODDS
Williams is accustomed to the odds being stacked against him, though.
Despite his stellar play during his time at Providence Day, Williams has faced numerous questions about his size and ability. Some recruiting experts have dubbed him a “tweener.”
On one hand, they wonder ,if Williams is big enough to play inside at the major college level. Other times, there are questions about whether he’s quick enough to play on the perimeter.
The queries don’t dissuade Williams.
“I actually enjoy it,” he said of people questioning him as a player. “When people say that, it makes me work harder. People say I’m too small or not big enough to play in college, but I look at it as I’m very versatile. But whenever people say that, I just go out and prove them wrong.”
And, boy, has he proven the doubters wrong many times.
This season, Williams has gone head-to-head with some of the biggest names in high school basketball and
proven his worth.
In the first week of the season, he faced Huntington (West Virginia) Prep’s 6-10 center Thomas Bryant, a McDonald’s All-American selection who has scholarship offers from the likes of Kentucky, Syracuse and Indiana. Williams put up 18 points against Bryant.
Next up was High Point Wesleyan Christian’s 6-10 Harry Giles, whose suitors include these four schools: Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky. Enough said.
Williams gave Giles 23 points.
Finally, there was Hamilton Heights (Tennessee) highly touted junior Abdul Hakim Ado, who, like the aforementioned recruits, has big-time schools knocking on his door. Williams went to work against the 7-footer, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds.
Is that the work of a “tweener”?
“It was fun — we competed,” Williams said. “I’ve known most of those guys for a long time. I think they knew that I competed against them when I was a freshman, and now I’m on the same tier as them, in my opinion.”
Williams said his competitive nature also inspires him to be at his best when he is facing all competition, especially the so-called bigger-name players who have college scouts drooling.
“I just won’t give up,” Williams said. “I have to do my best. It drives me. If I have a bad first half, then I know that I can come out in the second half and put up 20 points, if I need to. I see myself as versatile. I’m good with my footwork and back to the basket. I can take somebody to the wing and be effective, and I can go inside against smaller guys.
“I just play my game. I want to be a leader on my team. But with my team, I have a lot of good people around me, like (seniors) Chaz (Raye) and Matthew (Lee). That helps me a lot and inspires me.”
When Williams becomes inspired, amazing things tend to happen.
In elementary school, he began playing chess. One day, he got to opportunity to take on the No. 1 player in the United States. Williams’ competitive spirits emboldened him, and he took down the young chess master.
“That was the highlight of elementary school for me,” Williams said proudly.
Williams’ parents always preached well-roundedness for their sons, and it certainly has served him well. To this day, he can play seven instruments, thanks to his maternal grandfather, Otto Johnson. Under his grandfather’s tutelage, Williams learned how to play violin, piano, drums, guitar, clarinet, saxophone and the flute.
It could be argued that the arts were Williams’ first love. He went to elementary school at University
Park Creative Arts School before moving on to Northwest School of the Arts, where he majored in piano and chorus.
Williams knew he would have a decision to make, though. Would he stay at Northwest School of the Arts?
Or would he move on to his home school, West Charlotte High, where his brother, Gabon, played?
“I’ve been around (West Charlotte) my whole life. My brother played there with Kennedy Meeks, who’s now at (North) Carolina. I talked to Kennedy and my brother all the time. I learned a lot from all them, just practicing with them sometimes. I still have good friends there, like Isiah (Blackmon) and Kobie Williams.”
But as Williams prepared for ninth grade, the opportunity to transfer to Providence Day presented itself. After careful thought and discussion with his family, Williams decided to become a Charger.
“I love it here,” Williams said. “Coach Field does a great job with all of us, and I’ve made so many friends. Plus, our basketball program is growing. It’s been great.”
Meanwhile, his passion for things beyond basketball continues. It is nothing to see Williams sitting
in the bleachers between basketball games reading a biographer or a book of fiction. He still plays music when he can, and as his 4.0 weighted GPA attests, he puts studies at the forefront.
“Being well-rounded has helped me a lot growing up,” Williams said. “My old AAU coach used to call me a Renaissance Man. I really liked that. I was going to change my nickname from The General to The Mayor, but I realized how significant the General was to my family and me, so I kept it.”
SALUTING A YOUNG LEADER
What’s in a nickname? For Teresa Johnson, it’s everything. She chose specific nicknames for her three boys, based on traits she saw in them and things to which she wanted them to aspire.
Teresa’s nickname for Gilbert, her oldest son, is “King.” Gilbert stands 6-11 and attends UNC Charlotte, although he is not on the basketball team.
Gabon, who is a 6-4 freshman member of Johnson C. Smith’s basketball team, is nicknamed “Chief.”
“I wanted them to all have names of leaders,” Johnson said. “That was important for me.”
She also has signals, denoting their nicknames, to communicate with them when words are not possible.
Early in Williams’ career, she started putting two fingers over her eyebrow and saluting him in the way that an Army general would be recognized.
“You know boys don’t want their moms to walk in saying, ‘Hey, baby! How you doing?’” Johnson said with a laugh. “I give Grant that salute, and he’ll do it back to me so we know we’re talking to each other.”
“It evolved,” she said. “Originally, it was ‘I’m here. We see each other. I’m here for you.’ Then, at
one game, he was getting a little bit frustrated. Then, the salute became a signal of ‘Let it go’ or ‘Move on’ or ‘That was a good play.’ I use it however it’s needed.”
Johnson doesn’t get to salute her son as much as she would like these days. An engineer for NASA, Johnson is based in Houston, Texas. However, she got to see Williams play several times in December when she was home for the holiday break, and she vows she will be there when the Chargers head to Asheville to try to win that coveted
“By me being here, he is able to pursue his dreams and desires there,” said Johnson, a graduate of North Carolina A&T. “I am appreciative of my mom and all the people there that are helping this respectful young man grow. My dream is for him to achieve whatever he wants to achieve.
For now, it’s about receiving a scholarship offer to a college that will fulfill him academically as well as athletically. The offers are starting to roll in. Several ACC school are starting to show interest, and Stanford recently came to town to visit him.
The tweener stuff is starting to matter less and less.
“It should be fun to see how everything turns out,” Williams said. “I don’t know where I’ll end up going, but I think I’ll make the right choice.”
And wherever he goes, at some point, he’ll be able to look up into the crowd and see at least one person saluting the General.