Brian Williams enters his senior season with the Tennessee men's basketball team a self-proclaimed changed man.
It's noticeable at first glance: Williams' face is thinner, a result of the 15 pounds he lost after three July weeks with Frank Matrisciano, aka, "Hell's Trainer," in San Francisco.
Williams' status with the Vols has changed; he's now the projected starting center but with no Wayne Chism to share rebounding and put-back duties in the paint.
Williams considers himself more determined than ever, aware most in the Vols' fan base will have to see the changes in him on the court before they believe he's no longer soft.
"You hear all the junk people say, when I was suspended last year and whatever, but there's still gonna be 20,000 there every game this year,'' said Williams, who missed nine games last season after his involvement in the well-documented Jan. 1 traffic stop with three teammates. "I know they're out there watching.''
So does Matrisciano, the mysterious fitness and mental toughness guru in California's Bay Area who transformed former Oklahoma center and No. 1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin into a machine.
"Google me, you'll see I wear a mask in all my pictures,'' Matrisciano said. "I don't want people to know who I am and recognize me, I just want to help people.''
The perfect candidate
So while attending a Tennessee-Kentucky basketball game last season to check up on former pupils - recent first-round NBA picks Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton - Matrisciano determined Williams would be a good candidate.
Vols coach Bruce Pearl had known about Matrisciano and his unique ways for years.
"Ernie (Grunfeld) introduced me to him; the first player I knew about him training was Ernie's son, Danny,'' Pearl said, referring to the former Stanford and current international star who also played on Pearl's Gold medal-winning Maccabi squad in 2009. "I knew Frank was very selective about who he took, and I've been very selective about who I might suggest to him.
"Brian was the perfect candidate. He needed training, and more importantly, he needed tips on training, understanding how to eat and take better care of himself.''
Matrisciano likes to talk about how only three out of every 10 who come to train with him stay for the amount of time they sign up for.
"I've had guys last 14 minutes, and then they leave,'' Matrisciano said. "Brian came in, and I told him straight up this wouldn't be like anything he has ever done. He came in knowing what it was about, and when he got here, he just attacked it.
"He worked extremely hard the three weeks he was here, and I'm proud of him.''
Williams' days consisted of 2 1/2 hours of basketball skill work each day with former Sacramento Kings head coach Eric Musselman. There also was 5-on-5 play, and then three hours of Matrisciano's excruciating work outdoors, most all on sand.
It was quite a jump for a player who just a couple weeks earlier could at times be seen lagging during Pilot Rocky Top League basketball action.
"I've always worked hard when I've had to,'' said the 6-foot-10 Williams, who dropped from 284 to 269 pounds. "But I didn't work hard when the lights were off, and that's how great players are made.''
Making it through
Williams remembers thinking to himself that if he could make it through three weeks with Matrisciano, he could make it through anything.
The first day involved three workouts in the sand, jumping over rope, back and forth, with sprints up a hill and climbs up several hundred stairs.
"It was so hard, we couldn't go any more,'' Williams said. "When Frank sees you can't go anymore, he tells you to stop.''
But Williams didn't want to stop. He didn't want to quit.
The player known as "Big Baby" to his teammates was on a roll, already a long way from the 370 pounds he weighed in high school, gaining ground on his goals with each drop of sweat.
"It's a matter of wanting to work hard, knowing you're going to get better, go harder and be faster,'' Williams said. "Tennessee's workouts have been hard. I remember my first one when I came here, I was so sore I had to miss a whole day's worth of class.
"People don't realize at Tennessee you work out, and you still got class, you still have to get your homework done while you're tired and sore, and your butt hurts even when you sit down.''
Williams admits it made him feel as though he needed to pace himself at times.
"Since I got back earlier this month I've gotten up 2,700 shots,'' Williams said. "I might have got up 2,700 shots all last summer.''
Gone are the junk foods from his diet. Matrisciano insists on a diet of chicken, fruits, black beans, brown rice, organic peanut butter, water, organic cereal and 2-percent milk.
Just a couple of months before leaving for San Francisco, Williams' physique and poor diet was spoofed at the UT men's basketball banquet.
In a video consisting of the Vols' coaches making light of the players, assistant Marc Pancratz dressed in a blown-up sumo outfit wearing Williams' jersey.
Short missed shots, air-balled free throws, and scenes of Williams hiding boxes of pizzas in his locker drew laughter from the crowd.
"My diet wasn't that bad,'' Williams laughed. "Before I came to Tennessee, yeah, I'd drink two liters of Pepsi at a time. I wouldn't even get a cup, I'd just take the damn bottle out of the fridge and drink all of it.''
Just being around San Francisco, Williams said, is enough to make anyone want to trim up.
"I think I saw one McDonald's, and the M was on the floor,'' Williams said. "I saw maybe 20,000 people, and I think I saw three fat people. The hills there are ridiculous, they are a workout in themselves.''
In it to win it
But Williams knew he was in it for the duration.
"My mother was in the hospital when I left with walking pneumonia,'' Williams said. "I told her I wanted to go home to her, and she said, 'No.' She told me I needed to work hard, and it would pay off.''
Williams said he considered himself "Daddy's Boy" growing up, but all of that changed when his father died a week before he started his career at Tennessee.
"My dad always told me that as soon as I went away to college, he was going to pass away,'' Williams said. "I knew it was going to happen. Whatever he said, I believed. It was Parkinson's disease. He was 60.''
Williams asked Pearl not to release the news to the media at the time; he didn't want anyone's pity.
Nor does he want anyone feeling sorry for him now, especially after he embarrassed himself in January with the suspension.
"I had basketball taken away from me,'' Williams said. "I remember watching that Kansas game, and they (the Vols) were winning without us; the more the team kept winning, the badder it made us (suspended players) look.
"It was the longest month of my life. I realized there was a possibility I would never play at the University of Tennessee again.''
Williams wants to do more than just play this season.
He wants to lead. He wants to put his best on the floor, each and every time out.
"This is it,'' Williams said. "I got one shot.''