Day 1 of the VOLeaders trip to Ecuador left Grant Williams with a different appreciation for the game of basketball. To find that appreciation, Tennessee’s rising junior power forward strapped himself into a wheelchair and adjusted to a different brand of the game.

“For me it was really different and difficult,” Williams told of his time playing wheelchair basketball during the trip, “but when I got used to it, I was kind of enjoying it. My love for the sport of basketball kind of helped me in that sense.”

Williams is representing the men’s basketball program as one of 19 Tennessee student-athletes making up the VOLeaders Academy during the 10-day trip to Ecuador, which began Friday. The group on their first day visited the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador for a cookout, played wheelchair basketball, blind soccer and seated volleyball.

Video published on social media by the Vols on Monday highlighted the sports being played, including Williams scoring in the post while playing wheelchair basketball.

The “best part of basketball,” Williams said, is that it’s still basketball, no matter what differences there are among players.

“It’s easy to play and you can play it with or without your legs,” Williams said. “If I didn’t have my legs I’d still be able to show up and hoop.

“That’s the best part about playing the sport I play. You can play with a group of friends whether you’re running down the court or not.”

The VOLeaders Academy, according to, is a “dynamic partnership between the UT Center for Leadership and Service, the Center for Sport, Peace and Society and the Athletics Department.”

Student-athletes selected as VOLeaders enroll in courses working on leadership and cross-cultural communication through sports.

Time spent in the VOLeaders Academy ends wit ha summer trip to a country deemed safe and “very different from the United States”.

Tennessee visited Brazil two years ago and Vietnam last summer, with Admiral Schofield making that trip.

According to Tennessee, the group will continue their trip in Ecuador by “co-hosting sports festivals involving disabled athletes in Quito and smaller villages, and holding a sports clinic for children at an elementary school in a lower-economic community.”

They will also visit students in the physical education department at the university in Quito and “spend time with the cultural affairs and sports diplomacy unit to learn about their role in the country.”

The group will tour the Olympic and Paralympic training center in Ecuador as well, meeting with athletes.

"These students have invested in themselves and each other for an entire year, and this trip is a chance for them to get out and deliver everything they have learned throughout the year," Dr. Joe Scogin, Senior Associate Athletics Director, Assistant Provost and Director of the Thornton Center, told

"It allows them to really kind of understand the power of sport and the capability of sport to unite and connect people from all different countries. It's a pretty special thing to watch."