Even when he was about to become the sixth player selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, Weber State point guard Damian Lillard could not understand all the fuss.
Several hundred Wildcat fans were gathering downtown, wearing T-shirts commemorating his journey from Ogden to the NBA and watching the draft telecast on big screens inside a theater and outside on the plaza at The Junction. So when WSU coach Randy Rahe informed him about the big Damian Lillard Day celebration in advance of Portland's choice of him Thursday evening, this basically was Lillard's response: "Why?"
That tells you everything you need to know about the best basketball player in Weber State's proud history. Lillard became great, even though or possibly because he never thought of himself as extraordinary.
Everybody else in Ogden seems to think so, and the Trail Blazers validated that belief. Once the draft began, Lillard waited only a half-hour to walk onto the stage. "You wake up, you've got butterflies, you're nervous, anxious, all of the above," he said from Newark, N.J. "I couldn't wait to get to this point tonight and just get my name called. Getting called that early was just a blessing."
That also meant the party in Ogden ended rather abruptly, but happily. School and city administrators made the most of the moment, staging the downtown event to capture an experience unlike anything the Wildcats have enjoyed in nearly a half-century as a four-year school.
It all makes for an amazing story, how a player whose AAU coach pointed him toward Weber State when Lillard was being lightly recruited out of Oakland turned into an NBA sensation. Think about this: Lillard was drafted higher than some of the most celebrated players in this state's history, including Tom Chambers, Andre Miller and Jimmer Fredette.
Lillard's only failing was never taking Weber State to the NCAA Tournament, with his three teams losing in the Big Sky Conference tourney. Of course, John Stockton never got Gonzaga into the NCAAs, and his pro career turned out OK.
Rahe labels him "the most self-motivated kid I've ever been around," and Lillard's drive is unlikely to lessen, even when he's making $2.5 million as an NBA rookie.
Pretty much assured of being taken in the middle of the first round, Lillard entered the predraft process with a year's eligibility remaining and proceeded to make a huge impression on NBA decision-makers. So did Rahe, who loved having the opportunity to sell Lillard's character and work ethic.
"He's a tremendous person, how he treats people," Rahe said.
That's what his teammates will remember about him, beyond the 24.5-point scoring average. "He looks out for everyone else, over him," said Wildcat center Kyle Tresnak. "Having a superstar, or whatever you want to call him, with that kind of mentality brought us closer together."
In return, the least Tresnak could do Thursday was invest $29.99 in a Trail Blazers cap being sold at the party. Obviously, somebody knew something.
Lillard was aware he impressed the Blazers in his workout, but was not sure whether they would take him either at No. 6 or No. 11. Rahe was fairly certain Portland would select his point guard, after team officials spent a full day in Ogden, interviewing coaches, trainers and academic staff members.
Damian Lillard's story will help Rahe market his program to future players, but it will be a long time if ever before there's another like him in this town. That's why Thursday's party was worthwhile, to everybody except the subject of the celebration. Heady company
Players from Utah schools taken higher than Weber State's Damian Lillard in NBA drafts in modern history:
Player School Year Pos.
Andrew Bogut Utah 2005 No. 1
Shawn Bradley BYU 1993 No. 2
Keith Van Horn Utah 1997 No. 2
Danny Vranes Utah 1981 No. 5