"He's played with a chip on his shoulder ever since high school. He played with a chip on his shoulder here, and I know he played with a chip on his shoulder his first year in Portland.
"The kid is truly amazing, and I've never seen a kid work so hard for something in my entire life," the Wildcats' coach added, bursting his buttons with pride. "I knew he could play. I knew he could be successful. But I think it goes back to he went to the right place. Portland was willing to give him the ball and kind of give him the reins of the team, and I think that's one of the reasons why he came along as quickly as he did."
Coach Rahe pointed to the maturity and confidence Lillard gained from playing four years of college ball as keys to helping him make the transition to the NBA.
Lillard, meanwhile, credited the Wildcats' program, Weber State's fans and support system, and the Ogden community for helping prepare him for what was to come.
He was mighty grateful to win the award for a mid-major program that's considered one of "the little guys."
"It means a lot, just because of the position I came from, the small school," he said. "I'm glad that I could do it for people that have been in that situation, the ones that are and the ones that will be, because I think it's underappreciated when you're not at a major college sometimes and you don't play against the greatest competition and you're not always on TV. There was a lot of criticism because of that.
"So I think it means that much more because I come from that situation, and now I'm able to be the Rookie of the Year at the highest level of basketball. So, I mean, it's an honor."
He said he learned a lot at Weber State — about more than just how to hone his basketball skills — and said the key now is to stay hungry, "keep making strides," and never become satisfied with what he's already accomplished.
"I think the type of program that it was, it was all about hard work and competing and never backing down," Lillard said. "And that's the type of attitude that I took into the draft process, into summer league, because I knew I had a lot to prove and I was really out to prove people wrong and to show the people that doubted me.
"I was really anxious to get out on the floor and show people I belonged here. And throughout the season, I kept saying I want to prove that I belong. And I proved it.
"One of the biggest things I learned when I was in Ogden was just appreciate the people around you," he said. "The way the city embraced me when I was in college, when I was shopping at the mall, the kind of respect people showed me, the type of support they showed in games, how they made me feel on campus, that was important to me. I think people really appreciate it when you value the people around you.
"People in Ogden valued me, and I value those people — I still do to this day. There's a lot of lessons I learned over those four years that I still have with me. I still carry a lot of that stuff with me, and that's a big part of why I'm able to do what I'm doing today."
Rahe said tremendous work ethic, motivation and focus have played a big part in Lillard's success, and will continue to do so.
"Next he's going to want to be an All-Star, and I'm never going to doubt him," the WSU coach said. "So it's gonna happen; now when it happens I'm not sure, but it's gonna happen. ... For him to go to that level that quickly was just an incredible accomplishment. Now he'll get to that next level, and I know it's gonna happen for him.
"But I'm as proud of the kind of person that he is as I am the kind of player that he is."
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