OGDEN — Damian Lillard is an Oakland kid headed to Portland in the NBA Draft, but he isn’t about to forget Ogden.
Weber State’s standout point guard will remember the town he played his college ball in, the town that proclaimed Thursday to be “Damian Lillard Day” and celebrated with an estimated 1,200 fans who gathered at the Junction to watch and cheer as Lillard’s name was announced by NBA commissioner David Stern.
“It was four of the best years of my life,” Lillard said after the draft. “I think I met some of my best friends and I developed a lot of relationships that will be around that helped me get to this point so I’ll never forget it.”
Weber State isn’t likely to forget Lillard either, the first Wildcat ever taken in the first round of the NBA Draft, let alone the top 10.
The 6-foot-3 Oakland native couldn’t wait to hear his name Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., where he waited with his family before donning a Trail Blazers hat and taking the stage to shake hands with Stern.
“It’s been different. It’s been one of those days that you wake up, you’ve got butterflies, you’re nervous, anxious, all the above,” Lillard said. “I couldn’t wait to get to this point tonight to get my name called and I’m excited to head to Portland.”
Lillard was the first point guard off the board and said he was grateful to be taken so high in the draft.
“I wasn’t sure (where I would go) to be honest with you but I knew I was here for a reason,” he said. “I feel like I’m blessed to be in this position, period. A lot of guys wish they were in my shoes so I was happy to be here. Getting called that early was just a blessing.”
Lillard impressed Trail Blazers’ execs with a stunning individual workout June 15 and is looking forward to teaming up with Portland star Lamarcus Aldridge.
“I think I fit in well, especially with them having an all-star post that demands a double team,” he said. “I think my ability to make shots and the fact that I’ll be a threat offensively, if people won’t respect the fact that I can do that, then I’ll make them pay for it. If they want to play man-to-man, one-on-one against him then (Aldridge) is more than willing to score.”
Aldridge offered his own vote of confidence to Lillard on Twitter after being asked what he thought of playing with Lillard: “He’s a big time player.”
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said as much at the Junction while reading the official declaration of the city council to make June 28 a day to honor Lillard. The celebration to honor Lillard, dubbed #DamianDay on Twitter, was organized by Weber State student body president Andrew Gardiner, with WSU play-by-play voice Carl Arky as emcee.
Weber State University President Ann Milner told the crowd she remembered meeting a fan several years ago who said he had met recently hired basketball coach Randy Rahe at the airport. Rahe told the fan he was headed to Oakland, Calif., to recruit a player who could be a difference maker for the Wildcats — Lillard.
“It’s wonderful to see the university and the community working together to celebrate Damian Lillard and the tremendous success of the Weber State University basketball program,” Milner said. “It’s the community coming together kind of creating that college feel.”
Rahe told the crowd that Lillard wanted him to thank everyone and was humbled by the honor.
“That’s the beauty of Damian Lillard — he doesn’t see himself as a big deal,” Rahe said.
After the draft, Lillard said he was grateful for Wildcats fans’ support and the city for the celebration.
“I was honored,” he said. “I think it just says, more than me being the pick, it says a lot about that community, how they really support Weber State and they love their sports and I was just happy that I was the person getting that day.”
The excitement of draft day will be with him forever.
“I’ll never forget this time.”