When former Big Sky Conference MVP Damian Lillard announced he was going to enter the NBA draft, he told reporters he had two goals: to win the Rookie of the Year award and make the All-Star team. Last season he accomplished his first goal and, in his second season, he is now an NBA All-Star.
“I told myself if it’s going to be, it’s going to be,” said Lillard in an interview last week. “Everything that I could do, everything that was in my control, I did it. Our team won games and I did my job as a point guard. If it wasn’t going to happen, then that’s just what it was.”
WSU head coach Randy Rahe remembers that press conference just two years ago. He said he was surprised as anyone with the goals Lillard had before he even entered the NBA.
“I remember him telling that to the media,” Rahe said. “I’ll be honest, I cringed a little bit. I told him, ‘Those are some pretty lofty things.’ Then as we walked up the stairs after the press conference, I looked at him and I said, ‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’
“I shouldn’t have even asked him because he looked at me like, ‘You know me as well as anybody; what do you think?’ And I said, ‘You know what, Dame? You can do it.'”
Lillard said he was uncertain whether he would make it after not being selected to be a starter. He had to rely on the coaches’ vote to be elected to the reserves.
“I was confident, but I was also worried, because you never know,” Lillard said. “A lot of guys think that they’re going to be in this game and they end up falling short. It’s always a possibility, but I woke up confident. It was kind of like Christmas Eve for me a little bit. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Rahe was equally ecstatic for his former player. He contacted Lillard as soon as he found out he made the team.
“I texted Damian right away,” Rahe said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. I almost cried, to be honest. That kid has just worked so hard for everything he’s got. I told him in the text, ‘Anything good that happens to you and every success you have, you’ve earned it more than anybody I’ve known that’s played this game.'”
Lillard will be busy during All-Star Week. He will appear in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, the Slam Dunk Contest, the 3-point contest and the skills challenge Saturday, and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
No other player in history has attempted five events during All-Star Weekend. Most players use the All-Star break to rest. But Lillard said he isn’t worried about overexerting himself.
“The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and 3-point shooting is about two minutes,” he said. “I’m looking at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things.”
Lillard said his first experience with All-Star Weekend came as a child when his dad took him and his brother to the Slam Dunk Contest in his hometown.
“My earliest dreams of the All-Star Game was probably in 2000,” he said. “All-Star Weekend was in Oakland. My dad took me and my brother to the dunk contest and the 3-point shootout and all that stuff. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be a part of it and that’s when I became a big fan of it.”
Rahe was almost at a loss for words about Lillard’s success during his short career in the NBA.
“For him to be Rookie of the Year and then make the All-Star team, it’s outstanding,” Rahe said. “It goes back to (the fact that) he’s put in the work. That’s the bottom line. He’s outworked people to get to that point. He will never quit and he will never change. It will be cool to see him out there.”
All of the All-Star Weekend events can be seen on TNT and NBA TV.