Weber State's Damian Lillard returns from last season's injury bigger, stronger and more focused
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Damian Lillard is making up for lost time.
Man, oh man, is he ever.
A year ago, just nine games into the season, Weber State University's super-smooth point guard broke a bone in his right foot in a game at Tulsa on Dec. 16, 2010.
Lillard, who was the Big Sky Conference's Most Valuable Player in 2009-10 and was averaging nearly 20 points a game at the time of his injury, missed the remainder of the Wildcats' 2010-11 season.
Flash forward a year. The 6-foot-3 junior guard, granted a medical redshirt year by the NCAA, has returned bigger, stronger and better than ever before, with even more intense desire to play and more determination to make Weber State's opponents pay.
"When I first hurt it, I was kind of in shock," Lillard said. "Then I realized my team needed me to support them, and that our program is much bigger than just me. It took me about a week to get over it, telling myself I'm not going to play this season but my teammates are going to need me cheering them on and being a leader from the bench. And that's what I did.
"I think the biggest thing I got from it was to not take this for granted," Lillard said of being sidelined, forced to watch his teammates play the final 23 games of last season without him on the court. "I missed just being out there and actually being part of the team, physically being on the floor with my teammates and everything and just having fun.
"There's a lot of people that don't get that opportunity that we've got. ... I learned that when I am out here now not to take it for granted and to cherish every moment with my teammates."
And thus far this season, Lillard is not only making up for lost time, but he's taken his game to a whole 'nother level.
After all, he's leading the entire country in scoring, averaging an impressive 26.9 points per game — thanks in part to a career-best 41-point outburst against San Jose State, along with a 36-point performance at St. Mary's and a 31-point night against Southern Utah. Creighton's Doug McDermott ranks second in the nation at 24.0 ppg.
"It's just hard work paying off, that's the way I see it," Lillard said. "It's the best I've every played, because it's the hardest I've ever worked."
Keep in mind that Lillard certainly isn't just some ball-hogging guy without a conscience, or a mad bomber who looks to shoot every time he touches the ball.
To the contrary, he's shooting over 50 percent from the field, including 45 percent from 3-point range, and 88 percent from the foul line. And he's also averaging a team-leading 3.6 assists per game along with 5.8 rebounds per contest, second best for the Wildcats (6-2), whose only losses have come on the road at St. Mary's and BYU.
"The thing that makes Damian a really good player is he's not just a scorer," WSU coach Randy Rahe said. "He rebounds the ball, he passes the ball, he's made a conscious effort to be one of our better defenders on the perimeter, and he wants to guard the best guy on the other team.
"When it's time for him to get an opening and the defense gives him something, he's going to take it. He doesn't need a flurry of shots. There was a guy, remember 'The Microwave,' Vinnie Johnson? His quote was 'I just need a flurry of shots to get myself going.' But Damian's not a high-volume-shot guy; he's a scorer and a very efficient player.
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