There have only been four players from the University of Tennessee drafted by the Celtics dating back to the late 1940s.
Forward Marshall Hawks was selected in the third round in 1948 and center Bobby Croft was picked in the eighth round in 1970, but neither made it on to the Celtics roster.
In 1996, center Steve Hamer was taken in the second round, but his career consisted of just 35 games as a rookie on a team that won only 15 games.
Forward Grant Williams is hoping to change that trend after being drafted No. 22 by the Celtics last month.
A two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year who spent three seasons with the Vols, Williams is an undersized power forward whose strength is versatility.
He has helped the Celtics go 4-0 in the Las Vegas Summer League to earn the No. 1 seed in the tournament that begins Saturday. The Celtics face the Memphis Grizzlies in the quarterfinal round (4:30 p.m., TV: ESPN and NBC Sports Boston).
Williams averaged 13.5 points, second on the team behind Carsen Edwards, on 50 percent shooting and 6.8 rebounds, second to Robert Williams in the four wins.
Listed at 6-foot-7, the 20-year-old Williams can do a little bit of everything, including playing tough defense, and has displayed leadership qualities since the rookies and free agents reported for practice at the Auerbach Center not long after the draft.
“Grant is a prototypical teammate, professional, always talking, always encouraging his teammates, always wanting to make the right play,’’ said assistant coach Scott Morrison after getting his first looks at Williams before leaving for Las Vegas July 4. “He’s not worried about getting his own touches or shots. More concerned with making sure he makes the right play for the team to get a good look.
“He’s been the most vocal player we have out there, kind of directing traffic. Undersized bigs have to be ready to play every kind of coverage defensively, so it’s important to pick that stuff up and communicate it to his teammates.’’
Williams describes himself as “a pretty goofy guy, nerdy,’’and had offers to play in the Ivy League, including Harvard University, before choosing Tennessee.
In 104 games with the Vols, Williams averaged 15.7 points on 52 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds, and Tennessee was one of the better teams in the country this season.
Williams led the SEC in scoring (18.8 points) and was second in field-goal percentage (57). The versatile game that Williams possesses is the kind of style that coach Brad Stevens likes.
“It’s really just going to be whatever it takes to hang the next banner here,’’ said Williams, whose mother, Teresa, is a NASA engineer. “I’m the type of team player. It doesn’t really matter what you need me to do, just whatever coach Stevens needs, that’s what I’ll do.
“They want guys like myself and our size where we can defend multiple position and be versatile. I hope to take advantage of it. It’s really exciting.’’
There will be minutes available off the bench for frontcourt players, and Williams is hoping to crack the rotation.
“It’s an opportunity, but you always have to understand there’s a lot of talented players in the league,’’ said Williams. “For me, it’s all about competing and working hard and doing what’s best for the team.
“On the court, I don’t talk trash. I love to compete. It’s like when I play card games or (video games). I’m just a pretty competitive guy. I feel that brings it out of me. I love winning. For me it’s about trying to do anything possible and I have a competitive edge.’’
Williams and fellow first-round pick Romeo Langford, who is sidelined in the summer because of thumb surgery, both signed their rookie contracts in Las Vegas on Thursday.
As the No. 14 pick, Langford is guaranteed $2.9 million and $3 million the next two seasons with team options for $3.1 million and $4.7 million the two years after that.
Williams will earn $2 million in his first season and $2.1 million in 2020-21 with team options of $2.2 million and $3.6 million after that.
In a 113-87 win over the Grizzlies late Thursday night, Williams had 21 points and seven rebounds, making 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range. Outside shooting is a question mark in Williams’ game, so he is making progress.
“That’s something we’ve worked on with him extra since he’s been here, and he’s knocked some down, so that’s good to see,’’ said Morrison before the summer league started.
Williams, who played at Providence Day School in Charlotte before going to Tennessee, has only gotten a small taste of life in Boston, but he likes what he’s seen so far.
“My expectations were it’s going to be a hard working culture, a place where you’re going to learn pretty quickly and they’re going to spend a hands-on time with you,’’ said Williams. “It’s a great environment. You think about Boston, it’s a sport city. They’re showing a lot of love to myself and the other players. They make me feel welcome.’’