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Lillard to current Weber State basketball players: Be a program player

By Brett Hein - | Aug 21, 2021

Damian Lillard gestures as he speaks to current Weber State men's basketball players on the weekend of Aug. 20-21, 2021, in Ogden, while in town for the Weber State Basketball Alumni Classic. (Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics)

OGDEN — Even in years the biennial Weber State Basketball Alumni Classic is not played, Damian Lillard is no stranger to Weber State’s campus.

Lillard seems to be in town a couple times a year, and at least once during the NBA offseason. He’ll avail himself of the Dee Events Center and weight rooms for workouts while visiting Ogden, and has also made it routine to visit with current WSU men’s basketball players while on campus.

That’s a valuable resource for a program on the lower end of the resource ladder in Division I basketball. Of the men who took the court Friday in the fourth Alumni Classic proceedings, perhaps only Eddie Gill could have the same kind of NBA cachet when it came to distributing advice and distilling experience into usable information.

Lillard seems more than open to being that kind of asset for current players, and has previously said he gives his phone number to the older point guards to make himself available, something the program’s scoring king, Jerrick Harding, confirmed during his time at WSU.

The NBA star and gold medalist explained his be-available approach to that role Friday night after the Alumni Classic was in the books.

“I try not to come at them with all the answers, you know?” he said. “I never want it to be like I’m everything and I’m the only thing for Weber State, because I’m not. I just give them their space. They’ll come up, they’ll ask questions.”

When he does have something to say to current players, it’s about buy-in.

“I speak on the program. I was a program player; it wasn’t like Damian Lillard and the Weber State Wildcats. I represented the program and I was invested in the program, and what coach (Randy) Rahe and coach (Eric) Duft and coach (Tim) Gardner were preaching, and what they were pushing on us,” Lillard said. “I embraced what that meant to be part of the program and everybody before me did the same thing.

“So when I speak to them, I’m telling them it means something to have Weber State across your chest. Everybody can’t be in the NBA, everybody won’t go pro. But while you’re here, you’re a part of something special because of what this program is about. If you embrace that and work hard, do what is asked of you and be a true Weber State Wildcat, be what this program means, then whatever it is that you do want to do, you’ll have a better chance because of it.”

Lillard referenced his abilities in college, and how it was evident to most who watched his career, especially his final season, that his 24.5-point scoring average could have been much higher if he wanted it to be. He said an NBA scout noticed how Lillard played within WSU’s system even if it meant teammates were less likely to be as successful as Lillard in a given situation.

“I was going to try to do the right things even in times when I probably should have tried to take over and keep the ball, because I was such a program player. But it worked out for me in the long run,” Lillard said. “When I was here, I was just dialed in on being a program player, and that’s the biggest message I try to share with them.”

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