PORTLAND, Ore. -- The NBA has taken Damian Lillard around the world since the former Weber State standout became the league's fourth unanimous rookie of the year winner.
He represented the NBA on trips to Italy and China this past summer, competed in a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas and scheduled time to train in Ogden around those journeys.
Now Lillard is on top of the NBA world.
One year after finishing out of the playoffs, Lillard's Portland Trail Blazers have a blazing-hot 13-3 record, even though their league-best 11-game winning streak was broken by Phoenix on Wednesday night.
The Blazers were a perfect fit for Lillard as a rookie, handing him heavy responsibility as general manager Neil Olshey labeled him "our franchise point guard" on the day of the 2012 NBA Draft. The two-time Big Sky Conference MVP not only made it to the NBA out of Weber State, he played more minutes in the NBA than anyone else last year.
Part of that was necessity; the Blazers had no depth on the bench. Now with a better supporting cast, Lillard is leading Portland's renaissance and making his case for his first All-Star Game appearance. He entered Wednesday night's contest at Phoenix averaging 20.1 points and 6.1 assists per game.
While scoring a game-high 25 points to lead the Blazers past the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs in Portland's home opener Nov. 2 at the Moda Center (formerly the Rose Garden), Lillard waited until midway through the first half to start looking for his own shot, then began attacking the basket.
"I just got more aggressive," he said. "This year I've been trying to come out and be more of a facilitator, get other guys going, get the defense to kind of go to sleep on me a little bit so I can get some easier looks and try to be an efficient player. That approach to the game has helped me."
After the game, he met with Weber State fans in town for the school's football game, signing autographs and taking pictures.
Being recognized around Ogden, as he was in college, is a far cry from being recognized around the country -- and the world. Lillard has been featured in Adidas ads, NBA promos and in Portland, on building-sized billboards.
He continues to adjust to the ever-growing spotlight that done nothing but get brighter since he was taken sixth overall in the 2012 draft and went onto to win the rookie of the year award.
"It's pretty normal. It's not like it's my life. I'm a public figure now. I'm getting used to it," he said. "Everywhere I go, I know people will notice me. It comes with the territory. Once I decided that this was what I wanted to pursue as a career, I knew what would come with it. I'm around the same people, my family is always around me, so it's not like it affects my personal life. I'm excited about it."
And Lillard is using it to his advantage. Leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, he increased his profile with a YouTube series called "License To Lillard." On Twitter, he's now approaching 250,000 followers and is branching out into music by issuing a weekly rap lyric challenge called #4BarFriday to his social network.
"There's a lot of things that we can do because of who we are as NBA players to open up other opportunities for ourselves," Lillard said. "I understand that; me as a person, as a basketball player, I go home to my family, I'm loyal to the people around me. Then there's the brand 'Damian Lillard' where I can open up doors and other opportunities to maybe have other ways to earn income or other ways to be a celebrity or other ways to be a more successful person. Right now, I'm young, I'm in the NBA, I might as well use it."
While Lillard didn't share his lyrical abilities with his fans in college as much as his hoops skills, he's got more time now for outside interests.
"When I was in college -- I'm focused now, but there's a lot more downtime," he said. "I don't got to go to class, I don't have weight training on separate times from practices.
"My mind is always going, so I'm coming up with ideas and all that stuff all the time."
Lillard suffered a broken foot and missed the majority of the 2010-11 season at Weber State. He received a medical hardship waiver and returned as a junior in 2011-12, when he caught fire and finished as the second-leading scorer in the nation (24.5 points per game).
Leaving school a year early for the NBA was clearly the right decision, but considering what successes he's had and where Lillard has been in the past year, it's strange to realize if he had stayed for a senior year at Weber State, he would still be in the early stages of his rookie season in the league.
"Last year, I thought back," Lillard said, "like, when I would watch (Weber State) play, I'd think, man, what if I was on that team right now, like in the Big Sky tournament. I'd think, what if I was playing with Dev (current Wildcats guard Davion Berry, a longtime friend and fellow Oakland native), stuff like that. Now I don't think about it no more."
For everything else on Lillard's resume, the one thing he missed out on at Weber State was a trip to the NCAA Tournament. He's come to accept it, but Lillard has other memories to fall back on even as he builds new ones and blazes new trails in the NBA.
"It bothers me sometimes," he said. "My teammates sometimes, they'll talk about the NCAA Tournament and what type of experience it was. I can't join in because I never played in it. It's bittersweet, but I had a hell of a college experience at Weber. They're like my family, so that's the experience I'll never forget."