Randy Hollis: Lillard's such a great ambassador for Utah — too bad he doesn't play for Jazz
"But I understand the position that I'm in and I know that I have to value that, because a lot of people don't get to be in the position I'm in. But I appreciate it a lot, though."
And getting an opportunity to come back and play here — even if it is while wearing a Trail Blazers' uniform — is something he definitely looks forward to.
"Always," he said. "I think we come here two times a year, and I'm used to being around these people all the time throughout my college experience. Now it's every so often I come back and play a basketball game, and a lot of times it's just for one night.
"Just to see those familiar faces and them see me get out here and play the game that they watched me play almost every night for four years, it's always special being able to play in front of 'em again."
He was delighted to see the Wildcats and coach Randy Rahe win the Big Sky title and earn their trip to the Big Dance, where they turned in a respectable showing in a first-round loss to top-seeded Arizona. He watched that game and was proud of his old program's spunky performance as a No. 16 seed trying to slay one of college basketball's giants.
"It was big, it was big. I mean, they deserved it," he said of the 'Cats finally getting a chance to win the Big Sky crown again. "I was here this summer training with them and they worked really hard and that was their ultimate goal.
"Coach Rahe puts a lot of time into that program, and the fact that we hadn't been to the tournament my whole time here is kinda crazy. But I was just as excited for him going back to the tournament as I was for the players.
"I think they had a real shot at winning the game," he said of Weber State's second-round NCAA loss to those "other" Wildcats from Arizona. "If three or four more shots go in, I think that's an upset. They made a push at the end of the game, but they had a stretch where they couldn't make a shot and they still found a way to stay in the game. So that tells you right there they had a shot. They cut it down at the end, but they just ran out of time."
Lillard says he's hoping Rahe won't be swayed to leave Weber State, even though his college coach's success at the Ogden school is bound to have other schools come calling in the future.
"I know Coach Rahe real well. We have a great relationship and I talk to him all the time, and it's kind of hard for me to see him any other place," Lillard said. "What he's built there is big. They love him there, he loves the school. His impact here is incredible. So hopefully he will be (there a long time), so I can keep coming back here."
Now, having earned Rookie of the Year and All-Star honors his first two years in the league, and having helped push Portland to the NBA playoffs by averaging 21 points and 5.6 assists per game this season, what's next for Lillard?
"I'm not sure. I'd like to be consistent at what I've accomplished," he said. "I'd like to be an All-Star more than one time, I'd like to consistently be in the playoffs, and I think that's what tough — being able to sustain that same level and keep getting better.
"But for right now, that's what I want — I want to be able to stay at this level and keep climbing."
And when he does, there's no doubt that a lot of his proud, faithful fans back in Northern Utah will still be cheering him on — even if he's not wearing a Jazz uniform.
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