Randy Hollis: Weber State's Lillard playing like MVP at summer league

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

"Every time I talk about this kid, it just keeps (getting better)," rookie center Meyers Leonard told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian newspaper. "He's unbelievable. His ability to finish around the rim, shoot, create for others, defend, play hard — he's a special player."

Sounds awfully good, huh? But how 'bout the perspective from somebody who's been in the league for awhile.

"He's good ... very talented player," Portland's All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge told the media in Las Vegas. "He can really play. He definitely makes good passes, makes good reads. That's going to be big for us.

"I think every guy has ups and downs, but I think he's going to be good. He has a really good pace to his game and he's smart."

One of Lillard's best qualities is that, despite his terrific basketball ability, he has a level head on his shoulders. He's not one to brag or talk smack, but he believes in himself and in what he can do on the court.

"I think that's why Damian has been so successful coming from a smaller program, being able to do the things he does," Hersey Hawkins, the Blazers' player development director, told Freeman.

"He has good focus and he understands his place, but he also believes in his ability and the fact that no matter what point guard is in this league, he can compete with him. And that's an inner confidence that you can't teach. I just hope he keeps that edge."

To his credit, Lillard is well aware there's a big-time learning curve ahead of him.

"Not to say there aren't real players here," he told The Oregonian. "But I know it's a whole 'nother level up in the NBA, with NBA players, not summer league players. Being the MVP of this, I would be happy with it, but it's not my main concern."

The Blazers already have a couple of other Utah connections on their roster.

They took shooting guard Wesley Matthews away from the Jazz with a lucrative contract offer a couple of years ago. And a few days ago, they signed 6-2 point guard Ronnie Price, a former Utah Valley University star who spent four seasons in a Jazz uniform.

Price, a seven-year NBA veteran, is being counted on to help mentor Lillard and second-year Portland point guard Nolan Smith.

Price and Lillard have worked out together for years while Lillard was playing at Weber State and Price was with the Jazz, so that should help ease Lillard's transition to the next level as well.

Still, Lillard — the guy who Carl Arky, voice of the Wildcats, admiringly called "The Great Dame" — is penciled in as the Trail Blazers' starter at the critical point guard position. Those are pretty darned big shoes for any rookie to fill.

But several years from now, don't be surprised if Lillard's still lighting things up in that "other" league. You know, the one called the National Basketball Association.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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