The Weber State University Student Association received unexpected news in the Wildcat Theater on Friday morning as its two-day training retreat came to a close.
Upon announcement, WSU basketball sensation Damian Lillard entered the room as he was introduced to the audience as their surprise guest speaker. Those in attendance greeted the WSU star with a standing ovation.
Lillard, the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was invited to speak to the crowd on his recent experiences and achievements in his basketball career, and how he came to where he is today. He began by explaining to the audience that it wasn’t always an easy road for him.
“I grew up in Oakland, Calif., … and it was a tough area, so there were a lot of things that I had to overcome,” Lillard told the crowd. “I had to fight a lot of things that could have probably steered me in the wrong direction.”
Lillard continued to explain what allowed him to surpass any obstacles in his life.
“There were leaders around me: my mom, my dad, my brothers and my grandparents . . . and fortunately, I found basketball. . . . I worked so hard, and I played basketball like crazy. I learned that working hard was a great way out. It was a great escape for me. . . . I started to work, and I worked at it so much that I started to believe in myself even more. . . . That led me to get a scholarship, and I came here to Weber State.”
Lillard’s recent college career was one of the greatest statistically for any basketball player in the history of WSU. He averaged 24.5 points per game, along with an average of five rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals per game. Lillard also shot 88.7 percent from the free-throw line and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.
When asked about his favorite part of WSU, Lillard answered that “everybody knows each other,” and that he had the opportunity to be “able to meet everybody.”
Lillard is well known around campus and has built a reputation for being an athlete and person of character and respect.
“Character is extremely important for everybody,” Lillard told the audience. “I am the same person all the time, and what I believe is what I believe.”
Julia Saxton, WSU service vice president and a close friend of Lillard’s, thought to ask the star to speak to the WSUSA for his good reputation on and off the court, and for his hard work ethic.
“When we knew this retreat was coming, I couldn’t think of anyone better to emphasize ‘believing in yourself and your dreams,’” Saxton said. “I knew it would be a great way to start off the year.”
The recently drafted Portland Trailblazer also spoke to the WSUSA about his goals for his career. These included being NBA “Rookie of the Year,” an NBA All-Star and part of the 2016 Olympic men’s basketball team.
Lillard’s first game of the NBA season will take place on Oct. 31, when the Trailblazers take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Portland.
A member of the audience mentioned this to Lillard and asked his opinion on it. Lillard mentioned others who have asked the same question and replied, “I tell them I can take Steve Nash,” to which the audience laughed and applauded. Nash was recently added to the Laker roster during the offseason.
Lillard closed his speech by stating what advice he would give to any looking for success.
“Believe in yourself. . . . All the little things, they all add up.”
After the meeting, members of the WSUSA took their own pictures with the WSU basketball star.
“We are in the presence of greatness,” said Andrew Gardiner, student body president. “I am humbled at the opportunity to have people like (Lillard) to look up to and that represent Weber State.”