Hundreds of Weber State University students, alumni and community members gathered at The Junction in downtown Ogden Thursday to celebrate Damian Lillard Day and the NBA Draft at 4:30 p.m.
The setup for the celebration included a 14-feet-by-18-feet screen that streamed the draft coverage live from ESPN.
At 4:30 p.m., event MC Carl Arky, director of broadcasting and the voice of WSU football and men’s basketball on 1430 AM, announced a program featuring Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell, WSU President Ann Millner, WSU men’s basketball coach Randy Rahe and WSU student body president Andrew Gardiner.
“It really is amazing when somebody 2,000 miles away can get so many people to come out for a day like this, but I think that says a lot about Damian Lillard, who he is and what he’s done,” Arky said. “He’s put Ogden, Utah, on the map, and I think just maybe from here on out there may be a few more people who actually know how to pronounce Weber State.”
Arky then highlighted Lillard’s stats during his career at WSU, such as the fact that Lillard finishes off as the fifth all-time scorer in Big Sky Conference history.
Caldwell then spoke about how happy he was the city could celebrate an event so unique to the community.
“We promise as a city administration to continue working as hard as we can to make this the premier place to live, work and play and recognize that Weber State, its faculty and its students are critical to achieving this goal,” Caldwell said.
He said it was an interesting day to celebrate Ogden because Forbes came out on the same day with an article about the top 200 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. for business and careers, and Ogden was rated sixth overall out of those cities.
Millner then spoke and told a story about Rahe.
“Not long after Randy had been appointed and he was on the board, I had a fan come up to me and say, ‘I met your new coach at the airport and he told me he was on his way to Oakland to recruit a player that would make a difference in your basketball program at Weber State,'” Millner said. “Gee, Randy, you really understand recruiting!”
Arky then read the proclamation the Ogden City Council signed to make June 28 Damian Lillard Day in Ogden.
“I was interviewed by a radio station in Sacramento about a week or so ago, and they asked me about Damian Lillard and I said, ‘He’s a better person than he is a basketball player,’ and I’m sure that’s exactly what Randy Rahe would tell you,” Arky said after he finished reading.
Arky then introduced Rahe, who said that four years ago, he couldn’t have imagined this would happen, and contributed much of Lillard’s success to support from the community as well as from his teammates.
“I’ve been texting back and forth with Damian today, and when I initially told Damian we were going to have a Damian Lillard Day on the day of the draft, his whole thing was to say, ‘Why would they do that?'” Rahe said. “He doesn’t get that he’s a big deal, and that’s the beauty of Damian. I told him, ‘You’re a pretty big deal out here,’ but he’s not buying it.”
Gardiner then spoke and explained offers and promotions of the celebration. Each attendee received a purple Damian Day paper bracelet that enabled them to receive discounts at local businesses such as Sonora Grill, Wing Nuts, Megaplex Theaters, and Tona Sushi Bar and Grill. The bracelets also each had a number used for drawing and raffles where attendees won gear signed by Lillard, WSU men’s basketball season tickets, Salt Lake City Real tickets and more.
When the pre-draft ESPN coverage began, the crowd buzzed with anticipation and guesses of which team Lillard would go to and in which pick.
WSU sophomore and criminal justice major Bosco Edjamboya attended the event with friend and fellow WSU sophomore Garrett Mendelsohn. Both predicted correctly that Lillard would be drafted by the Portland Trailblazers.
WSU alumnus Keith Richards attended the celebration with his wife and two sons. Richards said he was excited to be at the celebration and show his support for WSU.
Frank Otis, Lillard’s teammate, said the two have played basketball together since fourth grade and that Lillard is the reason he came to WSU.
“He’s a great leader,” Otis said. “I think this is great; this is all for him and he deserves it.”
When the draft began, members of the audience seemed to hold their breath as each pick was announced. When the Trailblazers picked Lillard with the sixth pick, the audience erupted in applause and shouts.
In a private interview after the celebration had ended, Rahe discussed why Portland was a good place for Lillard.
“They’re kind of rebuilding their team in Portland, and he’s going in at the ground level in the rebuilding process, where he’s going to be counted on as one of the major rebuilding blocks,” Rahe said. “They’re bringing him in to play and that’s it, and I think that’s going to enhance his progress. You know, the team may struggle for a couple of years until they get the right pieces, but he’s going to be with other guys, a young team. They want character over there and good kids, and that makes me feel better, because that’s what Damian needs to be around.”
Rahe said Lillard’s experience with the Trailblazers will probably be similar to his experience at WSU.
“Had he gone to a bigger school, he may have had to wait a year or two to get on the floor, and he might not have made the progress he has here,” Rahe said. “In Portland, he gets an opportunity to play early and he’s going to have a better chance to be successful.”
Gardiner said he was thrilled about the way the celebration turned out. He said when Lillard’s jersey becomes available, he will rush out to buy one and wear it proudly around WSU.