Opposing teams and coaches have to pay attention to Damian Lillard or the explosive Weber State point guard will make them pay.
Most of the time, he makes them pay anyway. Ask WSU's next opponent, Portland State: Lillard averaged 39 points and five assists in two regular-season games against the Vikings, who the Wildcats will face Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament in Missoula, Mont.
NBA scouts are paying attention to Lillard, with as many as sixteen at time coming to games this season to see the second-leading scorer in the country.
Wildcats fans are paying attention to Lillard's climb up the Weber State and Big Sky Conference career scoring charts.
The 6-foot-3 junior from Oakland, Calif., got more attention from the league last week, when he earned his second Big Sky MVP award.
And that's in addition to the attention he's received from national publications like Sports Illustrated, USA Today, ESPN.com and others.
The flip side of all of the people paying attention to Lillard is that there are a lot of demands on his attention too -- and potential distractions.
He relies on his background and his group of friends to stay focused.
"It's hard for people who don't come from the type of family I come from, where everybody's together and it's about loyalty and being humble. People tell me all the time, you're this and you're that, why are you so quiet? Why don't you do anything?" he said Thursday after being named MVP. "I think it's so easy for me because I just like to lay back and chill. I'm at home all the time, I don't like to go party and go out, do all those type of things. Because of that, I don't have to deal with those types of people always in my face and wanting to talk. I work out, play basketball, go to school and go home."
He might go bowling or go see a movie with teammates or a small circle of friends.
"Really that's all I do, so it's not that hard to deal with when you don't have a lot going on or you're not hanging out with a whole bunch of people. I hang out with the same bunch of people all the time," he said. "That just makes it easier, when the people that you surround yourself with, they know what type of person you are and they let you be you."
Weber State coach Randy Rahe said maturity is the biggest difference between Lillard's first MVP season as a sophomore in 2009-10 and this season after missing most of last year with a broken foot.
"Sitting out last year gave him another sense, just by watching the game, helped him the see the game a little bit differently, probably from a more cerebral standpoint," Rahe said. "He's come a long way and grown up a lot. He's matured as a person and as a player. You can just see it on the court. He's got great poise, great confidence."
Lillard has improved his game enough to turn himself into an NBA prospect and a candidate for the Wooden, Cousy and Robertson awards. He ranks second in Division I in scoring (24.5 ppg), but perhaps more impressively, he's second in the nation in player efficiency.
As a sophomore MVP, he averaged 19.9 points on 13.8 shots per game, while he's now shooting 15.2 times per game, effectively increased his scoring by 4.6 points per game on only 1.4 more shots.
"That's the beauty of Damian -- he just plays the game within our system," Rahe said. "He's very efficient at what he does and it's not just his scoring. You've got to look at everything he does across the board. He's a high-level rebounder for a guard, he's a high assist guy, he's a high steals guy. He plays the whole game. That's what makes him a really good player. It's not just about his scoring. It's about the way he plays the total game in every area."
I've been tracking the national attention Lillard has been receiving this year and compiling links on a page on my Weber State Sports blog. You can find the "Dynamite Damian: The Lillard Chronicles" page at http://blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog/dynamite-damian.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow @RoyBurton on Twitter and read more posts about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog.