Once NCAA athletes compete for four years on the court or on the field, they have to stop playing, regardless of whether or not they graduate.
Before becoming an NBA superstar, Damian Lillard was playing the sport he loved at Weber State University.
In 2012, he made the leap from playing in college to the professional ranks after three seasons playing with the Wildcats.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Lillard graduated from WSU with his bachelor’s degree.
Before Lillard came to Ogden, the Oakland athlete was recruited at home by head coach Randy Rahe. In 2015, Rahe spoke with The Signpost about Lillard’s upcoming graduation.
“I made a promise to Damian and his parents,” Rahe said. “Being the special talent that he was, I let him know that we could help him achieve that here as a Wildcat, but it would require hard work and dedication on all parts from him. I let him and his parents know that it also meant that he would have to work hard enough to get his degree.”
He earned his degree after taking Weber State classes in the NBA offseason. In his first season at WSU, Lillard was far from the star he would one day become.
As a freshman, he scored only 11.5 points per game and made 1.6 3-pointers per game; both totals were the lowest over a full season as a Wildcat.
Despite the career-low numbers, Lillard was named the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year. In his sophomore season, Lillard made a marked improvement by increasing his scoring to 19.9 points per game and winning the Big Sky Player of the Year.
As a junior, Lillard played in only 10 games before injuring his foot. In his final year, he won another Big Sky Player of the Year by finishing with 24.5 points per game, and he was a finalist for the 2011–12 Wooden Award given out to the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player.
The award ended up going to Anthony Davis from the University of Kentucky. Lillard was a consummate student-athlete, who became one of the NBA’s elite players after his time at Weber State.
Lillard’s year-by-year improvement did not go unnoticed by other players considering Weber State as their future home.
Joel Bolomboy was a high school senior in Lillard’s final year at WSU, and the point guard became one of the reasons Bolomboy chose to become a Wildcat.
At the NBA Summer League, after signing with the Utah Jazz, Bolomboy said, “He was definitely one of the main reasons why I committed to Weber State. He was just a great example and the success that he had over his time at Weber State and just the improvements he made every single year. I kind of saw the same for myself.”
Lillard had the on-court success that set a standard for Rahe and the Wildcats, and off the court, he left another legacy.
After earning his degree from Weber State in 2015, Lillard said, “Growing up, this was one of the things I never really saw myself having an opportunity to achieve, and it’s a small dream come true.”