Randy Hollis: Former WSU basketball star Damian Lillard has made Wildcat Nation mighty proud
"It would mean a lot, but that's not my primary focus," Lillard said Friday. "I'm really just trying to help the team win games and hopefully get a playoff berth. I think that's what everybody on the team would say. As long as we win games, that means I'm playing well, and I think that'll lead to individual awards.
"It's hard to ignore; I don't think I can ignore it. I'm flattered by it, just because last year, I probably would be lying if I said I saw it as coming, but it's just a great thing and it's something that I plan on living up to. I think it's too early to tag me as that because somebody else could pass me up maybe. I just plan on doing what I've been doing for the rest of the year.
"It's been great," he said of his NBA experience up to this point, "but I know that it's a long season. I don't want to have a one-year career. It's about progress, constant improvement, so I've just been trying to stay in the moment, not look too far ahead and not try and drown myself in what's been happening. I just want to keep getting better."
Lillard, 22, credited his stay at Weber State for being a major factor in developing the player, and the person, that he's become.
"I think the four years says it all," he said of his collegiate career at the Ogden school. "I was there four years. My coaches, they developed me each year. It was never like I showed up at Weber State as an NBA player. Each summer, they sat down with me and thought out things that I needed to improve upon over the summer, and I think every year I improved as a person and player.
"Every year I felt like they expected more from me, not only on the floor but in the classroom, how people saw me around campus, so they really helped me in the development of my character and my ability to play the game.
"It's a completely different ballgame," he said of the move up from college ball to the NBA. "All of a sudden you've got a thousand more family members, everybody needs a favor and you've got a lot of money. So it can be a lot of negative attention, but it is what you make it.
"I keep the same circle of people around me and try to remain as humble as I can and just enjoy it for what it is — the game of basketball."
Lillard also realizes that a big part of his progress as an NBA player has come about because he was given the opportunity to come in and play regular minutes — an opportunity which has thus far eluded former BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette, who's been faced with a frustrating situation in Sacramento.
In Lillard's case, though, that opportunity to play has greatly eased his transition to the NBA.
"I don't think I could've been in a better position," Lillard said. "Portland had a need for my position. I think they were looking for the style of point guard that I am, and I think the kind of guys on our team I really fit well with, so I don't think I could've been in a better situation.
"I don't think it's been easy; my situation made it easier because of how my teammates accepted me. My situation with me having freedom and me being around great guys, that makes everything a lot easier.
"The Jimmer situation, he's on a team with a lot of guards and everything hasn't gone perfect for Jimmer," Lillard said. "But I think with the kind of guy that Jimmer is, I think everything will turn around for him and I think he'll find his way. I think the situation you end up being in is a big part of how well you transition."
OK, I admit it, I'm a Weber State guy, one who watched Lillard play and progress during his days as a Wildcat. So I've got a lot of Purple Pride these days.
And yes, I'm mighty proud of the player he's become — and perhaps even more proud of the person that he is.
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