By Steve Williams

Grant Williams already has become one of the most popular players in University of Tennessee basketball history. But he could take that fame to a much higher level, if he were to decide to come back and play one more season for the Vols as a senior.

Remember the roar we heard when Peyton Manning announced his decision to return to UT his senior year and play one more year of college football?

We would hear it again if Williams chose to stay.

Extending his collegiate career didn’t seem to affect Manning’s professional career at all. He went on to become one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time. And now, over 20 years later, he remains probably the most beloved and revered former UT athlete Big Orange Country has ever seen.

Remember all the babies that were named Peyton in the late 1990s and after?

Imagine if you were out in public right this minute, say in a restaurant, and Manning entered. At first glance, you probably would feel like you were dreaming. Then you would just hope he would walk by and you would have a chance to say hello. In the days ahead, you would tell your family members and friends about your star-struck experience. You would never forget it.

Williams too could make such an impression on Knoxvillians, Tennesseans, Volunteer fans everywhere, if he decided to stay and play one more season before starting his NBA career.

And, yes, think of all the baby boys that would be named Grant.

Manning had hoped to lead Tennessee to a national championship in 1997 and win the Heisman Trophy. Unfortunately neither happened. But that didn’t stop UT fans from holding him dear to their hearts. They loved him for giving his all and then some.

Manning made his fortune in the NFL and he’s one of the most famous quarterbacks to ever play the game. But his fame in Knoxville and throughout Big Orange Country reached a much higher level because he stayed and played for the Vols one more year.

If Williams comes back for one more year, he would have a shot at becoming a three-time SEC Player of the Year. That would put him in the same ilk as LSU’s Pistol Pete Maravich and Bernard King of the Volunteers. He also could become a two-time first-team All-American, which are rare.

With Williams returning, Tennessee could have four starters back to make another run at its first Final Four and NCAA championship.

Whether these accolades are captured or not, Grant could enjoy the same amount of fame among UT fans as Peyton enjoys now.

It’s definitely something to consider.

Fame and fortune?

Manning has both.

Williams right now has neither to such a degree.

A year from now, however, Grant could stake his claim to fame in Big Orange Country like Peyton did.

And if Williams’ game doesn’t work out on the pro level, at least he will have something.

Something even money can’t buy … lifelong fame.