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Guest commentary: Damian Lillard proves he’s a star both on and off the court

Published: Tuesday, May 13 2014 9:15 a.m. MDT

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates with fans, his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win.

Greg Wahl-Stephens, Associated Press

Throughout his entire life, Damian Lillard has been proving his doubters wrong. Whether it was in high school, college or in the NBA, Lillard has taken on many challenges while always rising to the occasion.

Growing up in Oakland, California, Lillard always had the talent to play with the best of them. During his senior season at Oakland High, Lillard averaged more than 28 points per game. Unfortunately, because his AAU team (Oakland Rebels) wasn’t a “big-time” program, he was often overlooked by scouts and was scarcely recruited coming out of high school.

In fact, the only scholarship that Lillard received was from Weber State University, a small “mid-major” school in Ogden, Utah. Anybody living outside the state lines during this time frame most likely had no idea where Weber State was located, let alone which state it was in.

It has been said that when Weber State coach Randy Rahe first saw Lillard play, he couldn’t believe that other schools were not hunting him down and begging him to play for them. Luckily for Rahe, Lillard committed to play for the Wildcats. This commitment not only changed Lillard’s life, but Rahe’s, Weber State’s and the entire college basketball community in the state of Utah.

Because Lillard wasn’t heavily recruited in high school, he always played with a chip on his shoulder. When it was time to go home after practice, Lillard would stay after to work on his game. When the gyms were closed on campus, Lillard needed other options to practice. One of those options was going to the Ogden Recreation Center to get his practices in. As college students across the country know, money is always tight. Lillard had a tough decision to make — shelling out the money for extra practices, or skip some of them altogether to save some money.

We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” and that’s exactly what Lillard did. Things certainly paid off as Lillard quickly became one of the top college basketball players in the entire country. Following the 2012 season and after an incredible career with the Wildcats (winning numerous awards), Lillard decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NBA draft.

On June 28, 2012, The Portland Trail Blazers selected Lillard with the sixth overall pick in the NBA draft. With that pick, Lillard became the first Weber State player to be drafted in the first round.

Lillard quickly showed those five NBA teams that passed on him what a big mistake they had made. During his stand-out rookie season in which he played all 82 games for the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard was unanimously named the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year — the first Utah collegiate player to ever achieve that honor.

Lillard became only the fourth rookie in NBA history to win the award by a unanimous vote, joining a very select group that consists of Blake Griffin, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.

So what did Lillard provide for an encore this year? For starters, he became the first NBA player to ever participate in all five events during All-Star weekend. Lillard took part in the slam dunk contest, the skills competition, the 3-point contest, the Rising Stars Challenge as well as the All-Star Game.

Perhaps Lillard's biggest achievement came when he hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Portland Trail Blazers a 99-98 win over the Houston Rockets two weeks ago. The win advanced the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.

Is Lillard an NBA star?

During a segment last week on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talked about Lillard, his game-winning basket against the Rockets and whether or not he’s an NBA star.

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