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Ex-Wildcat Damian Lillard unanimous choice as NBA’s Rookie of the Year

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard (0) drives past Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic, of Slovenia, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, in Phoenix.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published May 01 2013 09:43AM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:31PM

When announcing last spring he planned to bypass his final season at Weber State and enter the NBA Draft, Damian Lillard told a news conference that one of his goals was to become Rookie of the Year.

Weber coach Randy Rahe attended the gathering, of course, and heard Lillard.

Initially, he was skeptical.

"To be honest, at first, I said, ‘Probably not,’ " Rahe recalled. "I remember thinking, ‘Wow, maybe you should prove you can play in the league first.’ "

As the days passed, however, Rahe kept thinking about Lillard’s confidence and his lofty goal. It didn’t take long for him to become a believer.

"I realized you can’t ever put anything past this kid because he never stops improving," Rahe said. "He’s never satisfied. In 22 years of Division I coaching, I’ve never been around a kid who works as hard as Damian. The self-motivation, I don’t know, I’ve just never seen it before."

On Wednesday, Lillard’s work ethic was rewarded when the Portland Trail Blazer point guard was unanimously named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

As the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Lillard averaged 19 points and 6.5 assists. He also led the league in minutes (3,166) and set a rookie record for 3-point shots in a season with 185.

"I’m very proud of what Damian accomplished," said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. "It’s a testament to his talent, character and work ethic that he played at a very high and consistent level."

Lillard became the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year selection in league history — joining Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers (2010-11), David Robinson of San Antonio (1989-90) and Ralph Sampson of Houston (1983-84).

A panel of 121 sportswriters and broadcasters from the United States and Canada voted on the award.

Players received five points for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote. Lillard finished with the maximum 605 points to easily outdistance New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (305) and Washington’s Bradley Beal (94) in the balloting.

Lillard accepted his award at the Rose Garden in Portland and told reporters, "I think the best thing for me is to take it all in and then, tomorrow, I’ve got to let it go. I’ve got my whole career in front of me."

Lillard remembered the news conference at Weber State, when he first spoke of winning the award.

"I came out," he said, "and I proved it up."

Lillard’s last two coaches expect him to reach greater heights as his NBA career continues.

"This is just the beginning," Stotts said. "I know that Damian is already working on ways to get better for next season."

According to Rahe, Lillard’s nonstop quest to prove himself will serve him well.

"He’s always had a chip on his shoulder," Rahe said. "In high school, he wasn’t a top guy. When he was recruited, the big schools weren’t beating down his door. When he came here, that continued. He said, ‘Hey, I’m at Weber State but I can still play.’ "

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