Geographically, Damian Lillard was just 40 miles from where he played college basketball at Weber State.
Professionally, the Portland Trail Blazers‚Äô rookie point guard was in a completely different universe when he played his first NBA preseason game in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz last Thursday.
Lillard acknowledged the change in orbit Wednesday night when he returned to his alma mater to attend Weber State‚Äôs annual Purple and White preseason scrimmage, a game he would have played in had he not entered the NBA Draft after his junior season.
He has come a long way from his days in the Big Sky, when after a game away from the Dee Events Center, many times the only one waiting to interview him would be this reporter from the Standard-Examiner.
‚Äú(My life) has changed a lot,‚ÄĚ Lillard said. ‚ÄúI would go on the road and I would talk to you and that would be it. Now it‚Äôs like my life is to the public. Everything I tweet, I‚Äôm getting a thousand responses to. Everywhere I go, everybody knows who I am. It‚Äôs a lot different, so you‚Äôve got to watch every little thing you do because people are always watching you.‚ÄĚ
Often, Lillard has invited them to follow his meteoric rise from Wildcat to NBA rookie of the year contender.
According to a recent article at Mashable.com entitled, ‚ÄúHow social media is introducing NBA fans to a budding star,‚ÄĚ his @Dame_Lillard account on Twitter has over 46,000 followers, compared to just 2,000 earlier this year. Lillard is active on Facebook and Instagram; on YouTube, his minidocumentary series, ‚ÄúLicense to Lillard,‚ÄĚ and related videos have been seen over 300,000 times.
Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin is watching Lillard on the court, not online. He was impressed by what he saw in Lillard during Portland‚Äôs 120-114 defeat of the Jazz in their previous game. Lillard scored 21 points and though Utah‚Äôs scouts were well aware of him prior to the draft, he surprised Corbin in a few ways.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs bigger and stronger than I thought would transfer in this league,‚ÄĚ Corbin said before Thursday‚Äôs game. ‚ÄúThe size doesn‚Äôt bother him in a negative way at all, the way he attacked the basket, the way he could get space with his body to get shots on the perimeter. His iso, how he can bump a guy and get back, get a shot off even though it‚Äôs not a high release shot, he can get it off because he can get space. The way he can attack the rim and the way he competes I think is going to be great for him.‚ÄĚ
Lillard only scored 12 points Thursday against the Jazz in Portland‚Äôs final preseason game but Corbin said NBA defenses will have to reckon with Lillard‚Äôs scoring ability.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs going to have the ball in his hands a lot,‚ÄĚ Corbin said. ‚ÄúTeams are going to have to take notice of who he is early.‚ÄĚ
Weber State‚Äôs first five Big Sky opponents of the season currently have a combined league record of 19-11, including a combined 10-2 record from Eastern Washington and Cal Poly.
The Wildcats‚Äô final three opponents ‚ÄĒ Montana, Northern Colorado and Idaho State ‚ÄĒ have a combined conference mark of 3-13.
Montana‚Äôs two league wins were over Northern Colorado and Idaho State. The Bears defeated the Bengals, who are winless in the league.
After getting its first victory of the season Oct. 20 over Southern Utah and taking a bye week, Weber State (1-7, 1-5 Big Sky) meets Montana (4-5, 2-4) Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Stewart Stadium.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at email@example.com.