Lillard named NBA rookie of year

May 2 2013 - 11:34pm

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Damian Lillard’s coronation as NBA rookie of the year has seemed inevitable for the past few months, but it was far from inevitable when he left Weber State to enter the draft last season.
DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner
A young Weber State basketball fan shows her excitement at a video ceremony held at Weber State University on Wednesday that honored Damian Lillard, former Weber State basketball star, who was named NBA Rookie of the Year earlier Wednesday.
DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Damian Lillard, former Weber State basketball star who was named 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, speaks to Weber State University fans via video conference from Portland, Ore. Fans gathered at the Shepherd Union on the campus of Weber State to honor Lillard.
One of several T-Shirt designs available in the Weber State Campus Bookstore honoring Damian Lilliard, former Weber State basketball star who was named NBA Rookie of the Year on Wednesday. (DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
A group of Weber State basketball fans stands next to a cutout of Damian Lilliard who was honored in a video conference ceremony held at Weber State Wednesday after he was named NBA Rookie of the Year. (DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Damian Lillard’s coronation as NBA rookie of the year has seemed inevitable for the past few months, but it was far from inevitable when he left Weber State to enter the draft last season.
DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner
A young Weber State basketball fan shows her excitement at a video ceremony held at Weber State University on Wednesday that honored Damian Lillard, former Weber State basketball star, who was named NBA Rookie of the Year earlier Wednesday.
DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Damian Lillard, former Weber State basketball star who was named 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year on Wednesday, speaks to Weber State University fans via video conference from Portland, Ore. Fans gathered at the Shepherd Union on the campus of Weber State to honor Lillard.
One of several T-Shirt designs available in the Weber State Campus Bookstore honoring Damian Lilliard, former Weber State basketball star who was named NBA Rookie of the Year on Wednesday. (DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
A group of Weber State basketball fans stands next to a cutout of Damian Lilliard who was honored in a video conference ceremony held at Weber State Wednesday after he was named NBA Rookie of the Year. (DENNIS MONTGOMERY/Special to the Standard-Examiner)

 

The most remarkable feat of Damian Lillard's first season of professional basketball is that he made winning the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year award seem like a foregone conclusion.

Nothing was inevitable when he left Weber State to enter the NBA draft.

Coming from a school and a conference that receive limited notice on a national level, the point guard from Oakland, Calif., was a little-known longshot compared to highly touted players from the power conferences.

That didn't stop Lillard from standing in front of a few local media members and laying out his goals for the NBA as he made the announcement that he would be leaving WSU after his junior season.

"I want to be rookie of the year," he said at the Dee Events Center on April 3, 2012. "Some people might say I'm crazy, but that's just something I've set out for myself. I don't want to just make it to the NBA."

Crazy became reality Wednesday as the Portland Trail Blazers point guard became just the fourth player in NBA history to be unanimously voted the rookie of the year, joining Ralph Sampson, David Robinson and Blake Griffin.

Lillard hasn't just made it to the NBA, he has made himself a rising star in the league.

He averaged 19.0 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game in 2012, led the league in minutes played (3,167) and swept all six of the Western Conference's rookie of the month awards while gaining the momentum that led to his receiving all 121 first-place votes in the rookie of the year balloting. 

With 605 total points, Lillard won in a landslide over New Orleans' Anthony Davis (305) and Washington's Bradley Beal (94).

Lillard led all rookies in scoring, assists and minutes and set a Portland franchise and NBA rookie record with 185 3-pointers. He became the third rookie in league history, alongside Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson, to tally at least 1,500 points and 500 assists.

A few dozen of Lillard's biggest fans gathered at Weber State University's Shepherd Union Building on Wednesday to participate in a brief Google+ Hangout with him online while Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell showed him a key to the city that will be presented to him in person in June.

Weber State coach Randy Rahe told his former player he had been skeptical of the goal to be rookie of the year, "but I'll never doubt you ever again, my friend. Ever."

Lillard told the crowd in Ogden, "When I said (I wanted to be rookie of the year), I really believed it. I thought that I did everything to put myself in position to make it happen, and it's a blessing that it's actually happened." 

Had Lillard remained at Weber State, where he was the second-leading scorer in the nation in 2011-12, he would have easily smashed the school and Big Sky Conference scoring records, but the NBA was ready for him -- and Lillard quickly proved he was ready for the NBA.

He impressed scouts with his performance at the predraft combine in Chicago, wowed Portland team executives in an individual workout and after being taken sixth overall by the Trail Blazers and being labeled their franchise point guard, earned co-MVP honors at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

"That mantle that we asked Damian to carry as our future franchise point guard was a heavy weight to bear, and throughout it all, Damian accepted that responsibility and handled it with such great aplomb and courage and determination to prove to everyone that small-school players can excel in our league," Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey said at the NBA award ceremony in Portland on Wednesday. "And he's done that."

Lillard's career high in the NBA came in a 38-point outburst against the L.A. Lakers on April 10, as he went toe to toe with Kobe Bryant, who finished with 47 points and tweeted after the game, "Lillard is the real deal."

At the award ceremony, Lillard spoke of his journey from his hometown of Oakland, then on to Ogden and through his first NBA season, joking that he had once wanted to be a professional wrestler. He talked about telling the media at Weber State his goal to be rookie of the year, then promised not to rest with only one goal achieved.

"My first season is over with," he said. "I think the best thing I could do for myself is to take it in today, and then tomorrow, I've got to let it go, because it's a whole career in front of me after this. I want more than just the rookie of the year award. This award is just only out of so many people. I want to do a lot more. I want to win a championship. I want to be an All-Star. I want to be an MVP in this league. People might say I'm crazy again, but I think I can do it."

 

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