Damian Lillard talks about his rise from slept-on high schooler to small-college star to starting NBA PG.
as told to Branden J. Peters / @BrandenLSK
A lot of scouts probably didn’t get to see me in high school because the AAU team [Oakland Rebels] I played for wasn’t a big-time program. A lot of people from Oakland that did go to high-major schools, that did get recruited at a higher level than I did, they played for big-time programs. None of them were loyal to the one that they started with. I played for the same program since the fifth grade.
I had been overlooked in high school and I got overlooked even in college at Weber State. My main thing was to outwork everybody because I knew that that would be my way to get people’s attention by constantly getting better and putting that work in. Not only that, just being a high character person on and off the court. I think I gained a lot of fans because of who I was off the court. People respected me as a person before they did as an athlete.
I always thought I could make it to the League, but after my second year in college, that’s when I knew I had a real shot. Everything started to become easier, and I felt that I was just as good as everybody else in my class at the time. I felt like I could play with any of them, and I was playing at a level where I could say that in college.
Sitting out after my sophomore year was tough mentally because I had never been hurt, and that was the year where I was supposed to get drafted. I was frustrated and down because of the injury. I went to coach and he gave me tape of every game that I had played my first two years there. I watched myself and took notes. I got better from a mental standpoint, where I was just figuring out things that I could do better and things that I could start working on when I did get back on the floor. When I came back I was a couple steps ahead. I hit the floor running because I didn’t wait to start working.
I wanted to go to Portland, Sacramento or Golden State. Portland was probably the best situation for me because it was a need for my position and Portland was just in the Playoffs the year before last and almost beat Dallas. Last year they had some injuries and had a down season, but we’re still a Playoff-caliber team.
I’m not gonna say NBA Summer League was easy, but in college it was like every team was just trying to stop me, so to finally be able to play with NBA level players and then not having everybody try to stop me, it made it a lot easier because it was more open. I felt like I had more to prove than everybody else because of where I came from at Weber State.
I think everybody is kind of throwing me into the Rookie of the Year race, and it would be an honor to win that award, but first I want to help my team win games and try to make the Playoffs. I plan to carry on the tradition of Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Brian Shaw. They all came out of Oakland, so I feel like there is a level that I need to live up to, being from Oakland, and I know they expect the same thing of me.