Randy Hollis: Wildcats' great player Damian Lillard, great season still fell short of goal

Published: Saturday, March 24 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

"Bull" wound up his WSU career with 151 3-pointers (ranking sixth all-time at the school), 577 rebounds (13th all-time) and 1,042 points (23rd all-time). Mahoney, a former Wasatch High School standout, set a school and Big Sky record by playing in 123 career games for the Wildcats — more than any player in league history. The Heber City native ranks second in WSU history in career blocked shots with 100 and 14th in career rebounds with 570.

In guard Scott Bamforth, center Kyle Tresnak, guards Gelaun Wheelwright and Jordan Richardson and forward Byron Fulton, along with Otis and Hajek, the Wildcats — who led the nation in free throw shooting this season with a Big Sky-record 81.4 percent — will have a solid nucleus returning next season.

One other guy who likely won't be back, however, even though he has another year of eligibility remaining, is Lillard. The 6-3 junior point guard, who ranked second in the nation in scoring this season with 24.5 points per game, is expected to enter his name in the NBA Draft and is projected as a first-round choice.

"He's got a chance to be a first-round pick," Rahe said. "All I care about is his future and somebody taking care of him. If he ends up leaving early and going to the NBA, I'll be as proud of him as anybody I've ever been around. If he decides to come back, well, I don't care about us, I just want what's best for him. And whatever's best for him, we're a hundred percent behind him and we're gonna help him.

"Whatever is best for his future as far as playing basketball, that's what he needs to do. ... Anything good that happens to him, he's earned it as much as anybody I've been around in 22 years.

"He's really what we want our program to be about, just like Darin and Kyle," the Wildcats' coach said. "They're all poster-boys for what we want our program to be about — really unbelievably high character, great teammates, unselfish, believe in the culture of our program — and they have helped develop the culture of our program. This is as good a group of kids you can find anywhere and I couldn't be prouder of them. I'm really proud of 'em all."

Lillard, who was named the Big Sky MVP for the second time in his career and was also selected as the District VIII Player of the Year, was named to the 2012 All-America third team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). He is the first-ever Weber State or Big Sky player to be selected to the 15-man NABC squad.

Lillard was also named to the Lute Olson All-America Team and the Lou Henson Mid-Major All-America Team, and he is a finalist for three prestigious annual honors — the John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy awards.

"We faced a lot of adversity this season, and I'm just happy we were able to come out of it with 25 wins this season," Lillard said following the Wildcats' season-ending loss. "It just tells you what type of team we have — a lot of guys that are ready to step in when they need to and guys that accept their roles. ... I think that's one of the main reasons we were able to win 25 games.

"We came to work every day, and it just paid off for us. ... It'll be tough for awhile because I wanted to keep playing. As time goes by, I think I'll appreciate it more.

"Everybody has asked me what I'm going to do, and I haven't made a decision yet," Lillard told Arky regarding his NBA future. "... It's definitely a good position to be in."

Selfishly, Weber State fans would love to see Lillard come back for his senior season. But realistically, he's got to do what's best for him and his family, and that would be to leave school early for the riches of the NBA.

Lillard must learn from the example of Harold Arceneaux, another former Weber State star who torched North Carolina in the Wildcats' stunning NCAA Tournament win in 1999, nearly did the same against Florida in the second round, and likely could've left for the NBA after his junior year.

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