OGDEN — Damian Lillard took his game to another level after he returned from a broken foot that caused him to miss most of last season, posting one of the greatest seasons in the history of Weber State University.
Today, the junior from Oakland, Calif., is expected to announce he is taking his game to the next level again, leaving school early to declare for the NBA draft.
The school has scheduled a noon event that’s open to the public at the Dee Events Center.
Lillard began making a statement in late November when his 36 points against Saint Mary’s catapulted him into first place in the country in scoring, a position he held for most of the season.
As Lillard continued to climb up Weber State’s career scoring charts, NBA scouts and the national media took notice of his ability to put up points efficiently.
In early February, Utah meteorologist/basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy posted this statement on Twitter based on Lillard’s offensive efficiency rating: “Pretty sure D. Lillard is having the best season by any human that has played basketball in any league, anywhere.”
Greatest season in basketball history aside, it was certainly one of the top performances in the history of Weber State and the Big Sky Conference.
Lillard won his second Big Sky MVP honor, was named a finalist for the Wooden, Cousy and Robertson awards, won the District VIII player of the year award voted by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and became the first player in Big Sky history to be named an AP All-American, earning third-team honors.
Lillard averaged 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game as he led the Wildcats to a 25-7 record and second place in the Big Sky.
In his career, Lillard helped Weber State win two regular season championships.
The one missing piece in his resume is an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but as Lillard continued to put up big numbers, the number of NBA scouts at Weber State games at home and on the road also grew, as did his recognition by draft experts who began to project him as one of the top point guards available in 2012 and a potential lottery pick.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford currently projects Lillard as the No. 9 pick, NBAdraft.net has him slotted at the 11th pick, and DraftExpress.com has him going at 13.
Before the Big Sky tournament in March, Weber State coach Randy Rahe said there were two moments that he would remember when looking back at Lillard’s career.
“His sophomore year, we’re playing Northern Colorado at home, and we’re down three. We ran a play for Kellen (McCoy), and it got screwed up. Damian just took it and, with total confidence, jumped up and made a 3-pointer to put the game in overtime. We ended up winning the game. That one stood out to me as the confidence he has.”
The second memorable moment was this season against San Jose State when Lillard scored 41 points in a double-overtime win, the second-highest scoring game in school history.
“He’s got the confidence, and he made the big plays. The biggest thing I’ll think about Damian is his consistency on a daily basis,” Rahe said.
“He works with the same effort every single day. His freshman year, after the first month or so, is probably when he really became consistent. That’s the thing, when somebody asks me about him, it’s going to be the consistency that he worked with and how hard he worked, which I think stands out.
“He just never takes a day off, and that’s what’s enabled him to become a really good player.”
Lillard scored 784 points in 2011-12, the top single-season total in WSU history, and stands in second place on the career scoring list with 1,934 points, 85 points behind Bruce Collins (1976-80) for the WSU record and in fifth place in conference history.
He holds WSU career records for most 3-pointers (246) and most free throws (520) and is second in assists (362).
Lillard could have shattered Collins’ scoring mark with another full season, but in one sense, he is not leaving school early: He was set back a year by the broken foot that limited him to nine games in 2010-11 and repeated his junior year, thanks to a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA.
The point guard recently said he was leaning toward going pro, as he is expected to announce today, based on “the feedback and the opportunity that it would be for me right now.”
“I don’t think a lot of people see what more I could prove if I came back. My stock right now in the NBA draft is probably as high as it’s going to get,” Lillard said.
“There’s always the thought that I could come back and be a part of a great program, but (the NBA) is obviously hard to pass up.”