OGDEN — A little over a year ago, when he announced he would forgo his final year of collegiate eligibility at Weber State to enter the NBA draft, Damian Lillard boldly announced that one of his goals would be to win the league's Rookie of the Year award.
On Wednesday, to the surprise of virtually no one who watched him put together a spectacular first season in the association, Lillard made that glorious dream a reality.
The 6-foot-3 point guard, who was the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and started all 82 games for the Portland Trail Blazers this past season, was unanimously named the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year — the first Utah collegiate player to ever be so honored.
And no wonder. After all, Lillard led all of the league's first-year players in points (19.0) and assists (6.5) per game. What's more, he led the entire NBA in minutes played, averaging 38.6 per game, making him just the third rookie in league history to ever do so. The other two were a couple of guys you might've heard of: Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Elvin Hayes.
Lillard becomes only the fourth rookie in NBA history to win the award by a unanimous vote — joining Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers (2011), David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs (1990) and Ralph Sampson of the Houston Rockets (1984).
Indeed, the young man from Weber State made good on that bold goal he set for himself on the day he declared for the NBA draft.
"This is the way I hoped it would (turn out)," Lillard said Wednesday in an ESPN interview. "When I first got drafted, I knew that I was up against it. There was a lot of doubt and a lot of criticism and I just wanted to come out and be productive.
"I wanted to help the team exceed people's expectations, and I knew that it would take a lot for me as a point guard for that to happen. So I'm not going to say that I expected this to happen, but I was hoping it would.
"I was serious," he said of his draft-declaration-day statement. "... When I said it, I really believed it, and I thought that I did everything to put myself in position to make it happen. And it's great that it actually happened."
In a voting process that rewards five points for a first-place vote, three points for second place and one point for third, Lillard received a maximum total of 605 points in voting by 121 sportswriters and broadcasters, easily outdistancing the New Orleans Hornets’ Anthony Davis (305) and the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal (94).
Lillard joined former NBA superstars Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson as the only rookies in NBA history to score 1,500 points and pile up 500 assists in their first seasons. He was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month in every month of the entire regular season, only the eighth player in league history to sweep the monthly award.
Lillard also set a rookie record for 3-pointers in a season with 185, which ranked fifth in the league overall. He wound up 12th in the league in scoring and 16th in assists, averaging 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 84.4 percent from the foul line.
Still, his college coach, Randy Rahe, admitted that he was a little surprised at how quickly Lillard established himself as one of the league's premier point guards.
So, did he really expect his protege to be the NBA Rookie of the Year?
"Honestly? No," Rahe said. "I wish I could say I did. I was skeptical, but again, that's Damian. It's a testament to him. He's always been one of those kids that, the minute you tell him he can't do something, he's gonna go do it.
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