Local basketball fans will get a chance to watch former Weber State University men’s basketball star Damian Lillard as the Utah Jazz play the Portland Trail Blazers on the NBA’s opening night at the Moda Center.
After forgoing his senior season at Weber State, Lillard entered the 2012 NBA Draft and was selected No. 6 overall by the Trail Blazers. Lillard has since won Rookie of the Year and has been named a two-time All-Star.
Leslie Howerton, faculty member at Weber State, witnessed some of Lillard’s professional popularity first hand while living in Oregon.
“I know he is very popular in Oregon,” Howerton said. “People are very passionate about their sports there.”
Although more a fan of football than basketball, Howerton noticed the excitement his game generated. Many of her students talk about Lillard’s gameplay and wear his jersey around campus.
Here at Weber State, Lillard’s jersey is still seen on campus and is sold in the Wildcat Store.
Former professors and coaches who know Lillard personally acknowledge his basketball skill but are prouder of the man he is and the character he upholds.
Gene Sessions, Lillard’s former history professor, spoke about how Lillard has been loyal, humble, genuine and admirable throughout his career.
“He’s unassuming and quiet. There’s nothing arrogant about him,” Sessions said. “I just think he’s a real hero. I think he’s just such an amazing Weber State alumnus and a genuine hero out there with the way he behaves … I can’t imagine a better role model than Dame.”
Lillard’s college coaches, Randy Rahe and Eric Duft, agreed with Sessions.
“When it comes down to Damian, I think the thing that’s important for people to understand is that he’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Duft said.
Rahe said he hasn’t seen anyone work as hard as Lillard and praised his competitiveness and work ethic. Rahe attributed Lillard’s basketball success to his character and good nature.
“I think that could be one of the main reasons he’s succeeded, to be honest with you,” Rahe said. “What separates Damian from the others is those intangibles. His toughness, work ethic, character, integrity and his competitiveness — he’s got that tenfold.”
While playing in a professional league, Lillard has also turned an outside hobby into a profession.
Dame D.O.L.L.A., the rapper, recently dropped an album titled “The Letter O.” The album not only describes Lillard’s early life trials at home in Oakland, Calif. but mentions his time at Weber State University.
Lillard continues to make an impact as he makes concerted efforts off the court to help people and be a pillar for the community.
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers will host the Utah Jazz at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25.