Former Wildcat Damian Lillard drafted 6th by Blazers

Jun 28 2012 - 9:54pm

Images

(Photo courtesy of Lillard family)
(Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
Damian Lillard, right, of Weber State, is hugged after being selected the No. 6 overall draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June, 28, 2012, in Newark, N.J.
(Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
NBA basketball draftees stand on stage before the draft on Thursday, June, 28, 2012, in Newark, N.J. Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard stands second from right.
(Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)
Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard stares down a BYU player in Provo in 2011.
(Photo courtesy of Lillard family)
(Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
Damian Lillard, right, of Weber State, is hugged after being selected the No. 6 overall draft pick by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June, 28, 2012, in Newark, N.J.
(Bill Kostroun/The Associated Press)
NBA basketball draftees stand on stage before the draft on Thursday, June, 28, 2012, in Newark, N.J. Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard stands second from right.
(Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)
Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard stares down a BYU player in Provo in 2011.

Damian's dream came true, but the Weber State star isn't done yet.

Damian Lillard was selected sixth overall in Thursday's 2012 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers after his impressive showing at the predraft combine and in individual workouts elevated him from a possible lottery pick to a lock for the Top 10.

The results of the two-time Big Sky MVP's workouts don't surprise Weber State coach Randy Rahe, who calls Lillard the hardest-working player he has ever coached.

And they don't surprise WSU assistant Phil Beckner, who spent countless hours pushing Lillard through hundreds of individual workouts where no NBA executives were watching.

NBA fans across the nation where watching Thursday when Commissioner David Stern announced the 6-foot-3 point guard's name.

More than a thousand more NBA fans were watching in downtown Ogden at The Junction, where Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and the city council declared June 28 Damian Lillard Day in the city.

Caldwell, Rahe and Weber State University President Ann Milner spoke to Wildcats fans wearing "Damian Lillard NBA Draft 2012" T-shirts before watching Lillard's selection by the Blazers live on ESPN on a giant screen mounted on a truck.

Lillard, the second-leading scorer in Weber State history, became the 15th Wildcat taken in the NBA draft. He is the first WSU player to go in the first round and the second-highest draftee in Big Sky Conference history after Montana's Michael "Sugar" Ray Richardson, who was picked fourth overall in 1978.

Lillard may have started as an unknown prospect from a relatively unknown school, but the NBA has been in his sights since he was a kid, shooting basketballs at the branch of a tree that curved like the front of a hoop in his hometown of Oakland, Calif.

Later, Lillard's grandfather nailed up milk cartons with the bottoms cut out, and Lillard practiced on those.

In an interview with NBA TV on Wednesday, Lillard said that Rahe and Beckner would be among the first he'd call after getting drafted, along with his Oakland Rebels AAU coach, Raymond Young.

Beckner remembers when Lillard woke him up with a phone call at 11:30 p.m. in the spring after his first MVP season as a sophomore.

"He goes, 'Phil, what do I gotta do to make it to the NBA? ... I'm dead serious. What do I have to do to make it to the NBA?'

"I said, 'Dame, if you ask me, if you ask coach Rahe, I think you're going to get the same answer from everybody. To be honest with you, there's only one thing you can do: Outwork everybody in the country.'

"Here's the reason: He was doubted coming out of high school. Once he got to college, no one gave him a bunch of respect. He was a no-name guy, no one really knew who he was. I said, 'Dame, here's the deal. If you want to make the NBA, the reason you have to outwork all those people is because Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, all those guys, they're going to think they're better players than you just because you're at Weber State, just because those schools are bigger than you, so you have to have that chip on your shoulder.

"Every day you go to work, and every day you go to put extra work in the gym, you bring that chip on your shoulder with you.' "

Lillard said his journey to the NBA wouldn't have happened without Beckner challenging him.

"He was the one that really pushed me. There was times when we bumped heads because of how hard he was pushing me," Lillard said. "It wouldn't be possible without him. I always had the work ethic and the mindset that I was going to make it to the NBA, but he was the one that said, 'Yeah, you've got the mindset and you want to work to get here, but you've got to go to bed. You can't go do what everybody else wants to do.'

"He was that person, and without him, it wouldn't have been possible."

Beckner remembered another call a few months later when Lillard wanted to work out on a Sunday afternoon and the Dee Events Center was closed.

"I called him back and said, 'Dame, the Ogden Athletic Club is open, but you've got to pay $10,' " Beckner said.

Lillard, a famous spendthrift among his teammates, didn't want to do it.

"He goes, 'Man, I'm not paying $10. I'm just not going to work out then.' I said, 'Hold on, hold on. You're telling me you want to be an NBA player, you're telling me you want to be one of the best players in the country and you have this chip on your shoulder, but you're not hungry enough to go work out on a Sunday. You won't pay $10 to have a chance to outwork the guys from Kentucky, to outwork the guys from Duke.

"He goes, 'No, Phil, I'm not paying $10.'

"I said, did you eat at McDonald's this week? 'Yep.' Did you eat at Burger King this week? 'Yep.' I go, that's $12 or $13 right there. You're telling me $10 isn't worth the price of your dreams."

Lillard paid to work out.

That day was the turning point, Beckner said, the day Lillard decided to turn himself from a Big Sky MVP into an elite NBA prospect through an unmatched work ethic.

Thursday, that hard work paid off.

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