Damian Lillard returned to Ogden this last Saturday as the city honored him for his achievements in his first year in the NBA. Lillard was presented with the key to the city and he talked about his first year as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.
“The key to the city is actually a very symbolic thing that is given to someone who has done a lot for the community, someone who is a good representative,” said Ogden City’s chief administrative officer, Mark Johnson. “Damian has done a great job of representing Weber State University and Ogden City. We can’t thank him enough for the contributions he has made to our community.”
Lillard credited his time at WSU and the fact that he was treated just like any other player as one of the reasons he was able to be so successful so early on in his NBA career.
“Every minute I was here, they pushed me to get better,” Lillard said. “It got to the point that I felt like I was the best player and they didn’t care. Every day in practice, I got yelled at just like everybody else. In private workouts, I got pushed just as hard, if not harder, than anybody else. Even in the classroom, when I didn’t get work done, they were on my case. There was no special treatment. The biggest thing with the Weber State program is how they help you develop as a man; they push you in the classroom to be a better student first and a better basketball player last.”
WSU head basketball coach Randy Rahe was quick to point out that Lillard’s work ethic was also a major factor in his success as a rookie.
“I don’t think Damian had a bad day in practice after his first month,” Rahe said. “The beauty of it is when a guy turns out to be your best player and he is one of your hardest workers, if not the hardest worker. That’s the type of character that Damian has. When he buys into our system and culture the way Damian did, then it’s a blessing to your program. I knew what I was going to get every day, and he led the way by his example, his actions and how hard he worked.”
Lillard said he believes that, for the type of player he is, he was drafted into the NBA at the perfect time.
“It used to be that a point guard was just a facilitator; you just make plays, pass the ball and run the offense,” Lillard said. “Now you see Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Erving — the best point guards in the league are all scoring guards. They make the right plays; they understand the game. I think that is the type of point guard that I am. The way that I play really suits how the point guard is in the NBA now.”
Lillard’s success in the NBA has had a large impact on WSU’s basketball recruiting efforts. He has put WSU on the nation’s map.
“The exposure that we have received with Damian doing what he’s done, it’s priceless — you can’t put a monetary figure on it,” Rahe said. “Any time he’s playing on TV, the name Weber State comes up. Now it’s nice to be able to call up recruits and not have to ask them if they’ve heard of Weber State. The type of person Damian is, the way he handles himself when he is doing interviews, when he’s in the public eye, that’s as good of an ambassador as you can possibly have.”
After achieving his goal to be the NBA Rookie of the Year, Lillard has new goals he wants to achieve next season.
“For me, I want to be an All-Star next season,” Lillard said. “Even though that will take a lot of work, that’s what I want for myself. For my team, I just want us to make the playoffs. That’s what we’re here for; I want us to be a playoff team and try to make a run at a championship.”
Lillard will stay in Ogden to train in the altitude and get in better shape. Lillard is also training to participate with Team USA, having received an invitation to attend the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s National Team mini-camp held in Las Vegas, July 22-25.