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Damian Lillard pleases the Ogden crowd by playing all 40 minutes in alumni game

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard takes a selfie with Donna and Ralph Friz who have been watching Weber State University sports for 60-years as the famous basketball player hosts an alumni game at Weber State, his alma mater on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021.

It’s no surprise Damian Lillard was named to Weber State’s Hall of Fame this week.

Heck, he probably locked that up with his first season or two of college basketball alone. Even back then, in 2008, Lillard won first-team All-Big Sky honors, a Big Sky MVP, and two straight Big Sky titles for the Wildcats. That’s probably enough on its own to be named to any school’s Hall.

Oh, except for that he then had a scintillating senior season, made the All-America team, was drafted sixth by the Portland Trail Blazers, immediately was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, since has made six All-Star games, six All-NBA teams, has been in the top-10 of MVP voting five times, and just won an Olympic gold medal — as the first player from a school in Utah to play for Team USA. And, well, if you prefer counting stacks of cash over stacks of plaques, know that he’ll make $349 million over the course of his career from his team contract, a figure that doesn’t include the $100 million or so that his Adidas contract has paid him.

Lillard has, with all due respect to Weber State’s athletic history, more Fame than the rest of Weber’s Hall put together.

But what is surprising is that, despite standing on that pedestal, Lillard still gives significant time back to his alma mater.

That was on display on Friday night up at the Dee Events Center in Ogden for the fourth Weber State Basketball Alumni Classic — an event that Lillard has taken part in four times since 2015. Lillard signed autographs for fans before the event, played all 40 minutes of a game between two teams made up of Weber State alumni from the ‘80s to 2020, scored 41 points, spoke to local media, then went back out on the court afterwards and took untold numbers of photos and signed shoes, cards, posters, and whatever else Weber’s fans had for him.

Why does he do it?

“It’s been a tough year, this year, for a lot of people. And coming out of that a little bit and being able to do something like this and come together,” Lillard began. “People go back to their families, to work, to their home cities. You don’t know what their everyday is — you don’t know the struggles that they go through every day. You can do something like this and just bring happiness, you know, shine a light on people.”

Lillard wasn’t alone at the game — he brought Blazers teammates Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, and Keljin Blevins with him to Ogden. They, along with a crowd of a few thousand, watched a light All-Star game-style run turn into a competitive contest by the end, with the game coming down to the last possession, giving Lillard the chance to make a game-winner as the buzzer sounded. He, author of some of the most important NBA playoff game-winning buzzer-beaters ever, missed.

Maybe he’s saving Dame Time for later.

Regardless, the fans got everything else they wanted out of the night, and so did Weber State, with coach Randy Rahe and their 2021-22 basketball team watching the proceedings from the sidelines. Lillard will once again visit Utah for his Hall of Fame inauguration, with a banquet on Sept. 17.

“I was honored,” Lillard said, speaking of his induction into Weber’s HOF. “And it’s not something that everybody gets, so I’m thankful that I’m viewed in that light by this university and that everything that I’ve done here and going forward is appreciated on that level.”

On that level? Even a Hall of Fame induction doesn’t begin to describe how Weber appreciates Lillard — and what an event like Friday’s means to their program.

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