SALT LAKE CITY — Jimmer may have jumped to the NBA yet there's a new NCAA scoring leader in Utah, one who can pop the 3, slash to the hoop and drop 40 on a given night.
About the only thing junior point guard Damian Lillard lacks is a catchy first name, though Weber State teammates and friends are starting to call him FlyGuy after his performances of late, including a 41-point outburst in Saturday's double-overtime thriller. On Wednesday, Lillard will face Jimmer Fredette's old team, BYU, for state bragging rights. It comes a year after Lillard could only watch, his right foot broken, as the Cougars won and Jimmermania exploded.
"I was really bummed at (missing) that one," Lillard said. "That was definitely a game I had marked on my calendar, especially how Jimmer blew up. I like a challenge and I think it would have been a great game."
Lillard clearly isn't the same player he was before the injury. He's much better.
Entering Wednesday's game, he leads the nation in scoring at 28.2 points a game. Fredette finished last season with a 28.9-point scoring average in guiding the Cougars to a 32-5 mark and a trip to the NCAA round of 16.
"It is a little ironic I guess," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said of national scoring leaders in successive years hailing from colleges in Utah. "It just happens to be happening."
Even Lillard is quick to note it's only been six games.
"He doesn't picture himself as a big deal," Rahe said. "He's very grounded, very humble. He works harder than any kid I've ever been around in 22 years, but he works hard because he's trying to win, not because he's trying to put up numbers. It's all about winning."
The Wildcats are 5-1, their only loss coming at Saint Mary's on Nov. 28. BYU is 6-2, its losses to then-No. 11 Wisconsin and against Utah State in the opener.
BYU coach Dave Rose knows this one will even tougher considering Weber State beat Utah State, 73-63, last month.
"The in-state games are always emotional," Rose said. "And it's really hard to guard (Lillard). He has a variety of ways to score and he's extremely confident. It will be a challenge for us. We'll have to use more than one guy on him."
Just as defenses had to game plan to stop Fredette, Lillard is encountering similar roadblocks but continues to find ways to turn it on when he needs to.
Lillard stands 6-foot-3, an inch taller than Fredette.
While Fredette had that amazing range, crossover dribble and great feel for the game, Lillard is more athletic and explosive.
Both are hailed as solid people first, but they come from different backgrounds and opposite coasts.
Fredette is from Glens Falls, N.Y., a city dubbed Hometown USA.
Lillard is from inner-city Oakland, Calif., and easily could have gone a different direction as he saw friends and family members do.
"He told me stories of friends that had been shot or gone down the wrong path or all the bad things that can happen from that area," Rahe said.
Lillard wanted to play ball, and surrounded himself with friends who shared similar goals.
"I've always had a chip on my shoulder because I've always been overlooked," Lillard said. "They don't really recruit in Northern California. Even in my neighborhood, people don't go to college, graduate from high school. I always wanted to be the one that was different, beat the odds. So the chip's always been there.
"Now people say, he goes to Weber State or plays in the Big Sky. I feel like I've got to prove people wrong all the time."
That he ended up playing in Ogden, Utah, is testament to the way he was raised.
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