Damian Lillard is not letting the current love affair NBA teams have with his game get to his head. He recognizes the work still to be done, more people to prove wrong and an Oakland hoops tradition to carry on. The 6-3 point guard’s everlasting chip on the shoulder is birthed out of past underrating and overlooking.
Despite putting up 28 points per game his senior year at Oakland (CA) High, Lillard was written off as a mid-major recruit, thus landing at Weber State of the Big Sky conference. He was the first freshman to land a spot on the All-Conference first team since Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington) back in 2006. After Lillard was named conference MVP as a sophomore, his season was derailed as a junior due to a broken foot.
Months of character and skill building gave way to one of the best seasons in Weber State basketball history in 2011. Lillard was among the most feared scorers in the college game, finishing second in the nation with 24.5 points per game. He was also named an All-American by the Associated Press and National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Come Thursday night, Lillard is widely expected to be the first point guard called. In our latest mock draft, we have the junior going No. 10 to New Orleans, teaming him up with top pick Anthony Davis. The major consensus is he won’t slip out of the top ten.
Dime caught up with Damian to discuss his underdog background, coming from Oakland and his take on being a point guard with an affinity for putting ball in the hoop.
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Dime: You were considered a two-star prospect coming out of Oakland High, now you are considered a sure-fire lottery pick and the top point guard in the draft. How are you dealing with this newfound attention?
Damian Lillard: I’m dealing with it well. When people doubted me and didn’t give me a lot of credit for the player that I was, I didn’t buy into what they were saying then. I didn’t believe that hype so now that everything is switched and people are showing me all this love and finally respecting what I do, I’m feeling the same way about it. I appreciate it but I don’t buy into it too much the same way as I didn’t buy into it before all of this was here.
Dime: Why weren’t you recruited heavily out of high school?
DL: I don’t think I got a lot of exposure. The area that I’m from, Oakland, they didn’t recruit a lot out of there. I got better late. I was always a good player but I really kicked off eleventh and twelfth grade. I just got overlooked.
Dime: Who was a major influence on you as a person and your game as well?
DL: A guy named Raymond Young. I’m real close with him to this day. He was my AAU coach, started working with me in the eighth grade. Working with him, he taught me how to work hard. He pushed me real hard on and off the court. He taught me to value some things that I still value today and have the mindset that I still have to this day. I think buying into what he was getting me to see allowed me to get to this point.
Dime: Oakland has a lineage of players from Jason Kidd to Gary Payton. What does it mean to be a ball player from Oakland?
DL: It means a lot. Being a hooper from Oakland, it comes with a standard that you gotta hold, especially being a point guard. You gotta be tough and you gotta be competitive and I think all those guys from Oakland that made it had those characteristics. Now that I’m going to be the next one, it’s a standard that I gotta hold it up to. Show people this is what Oakland guards are about.
Dime: To this day even when you’re working out for NBA teams, do you still carry that chip on your shoulder of being overlooked and playing at Weber State?
DL: I gotta keep it because it’s what got me to this point. I have always had to prove myself. Right now, they’re giving me some respect. I’ll be a lottery pick, but I know it’s still a lot of people that probably don’t think I’m worthy of a lottery pick. Just the fact that I know people doubted me at every level and it’s always going to be those people. I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder because I’ve always been the underdog. They’re probably expecting me not to do well. I know its people out there like that and I’m gonna keep working to show them that I belong.