The formula: Dillon Jones on Lillard’s camp, staying ‘solid’ with Weber State basketball
Damian Lillard’s basketball camp sent invitations to only 40 players from across the country to travel to the Portland, Oregon, area where they were to learn from Lillard and those who shaped him about the special creed — “Formula Zero” — that helped propel a small-college guard to NBA superstardom.
“It was definitely a one-of-a-kind event,” Dillon Jones said.
The third-year Weber State sophomore was one of just 20 college players invited to Formula Zero, along with 20 high school players who fit a certain type of person Lillard hopes to shape — “the guys who are underrated, underappreciated, the tough ones, the dogs,” Lillard explained in July. “We want to put them all in the same place and just try to make them better when they leave.”
For four-plus days in early August, Jones and the others heard from coaches like Phil Beckner, the former WSU assistant who is now a training guru and who remains close to Lillard, and motivational speakers like former NFL player Trent Shelton, who spoke to the players about investing in the things and the people that truly matter in life.
On and off the court, players were eating and drinking the formula, so to speak.
“The point Dame is trying to get across, you don’t see too many people reaching for it and who care about it that deep,” Jones said. “But that’s what made his career, which is what the formula is — being accountable, having character and having a work ethic. He understands what that did for him and his career, and he doesn’t take it lightly.”
From the university he now shares with Jones, Lillard crafted himself from a lower-rated recruit into an NBA Draft lottery pick, NBA Rookie of the Year, six-time All-NBA selection, Olympic gold medalist and being named to the NBA’s list of the 75 all-time best players for its 75th anniversary.
Players engaged in morning and evening sessions of basketball on the court and after every meal off the court, players would sit at the feet of Lillard, Shelton, and a handful of other basketball coaches and motivational figures learning “how to put your life together,” he said.
“Being able to learn Dame’s mindset, it always hits home with me because when he talks, you can feel how real it is,” Jones said. “He’s not the most talented guy, he wasn’t ever a for-sure pro, but he turned it into that because of what he did. … There were a lot of things that went into getting to his level. So that definitely made me feel inspired to keep going.”
There were plenty of on-the-court benefits, too. Jones joined North Carolina’s Caleb Love, Wyoming’s Graham Ike, Houston’s Marcus Sasser, Michigan State’s Jaden Akins and Kansas’ Jalen Wilson among the current college players for basketball workouts.
“It was a great experience just seeing that I could compete with every player who was there, so I was glad I had the opportunity to go and show it,” Jones said.
DAY TWO // HARD WORK
“When you’re good, you will tell everyone. But when you’re great, you don’t have to say a word…because they’ll tell YOU.” #TheFormula pic.twitter.com/6PZIAhyCFz
— Formula Zero (@frmlazro) August 6, 2022
Players were divided into groups for the duration of the camp and led by current or former NBA players. CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Evan Turner and Chris Kaman were there, among others.
Jones’ group was led by Mikal Bridges of the Phoenix Suns and Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers. Jones said he asked questions as often as he could.
“Just being in that environment, being around those type of people, being able to have that type of dialogue was huge,” he said.
He took an interest in learning tips from Thybulle, widely regarded as one of the game’s best defensive players the sport has.
“He has to guard guys who can do everything, so just insight on how to guard players like that,” Jones said as one example. “Getting tips from him can make my life easier at the level I’m playing at.”
The ultimate takeaway from the camp was that accountability, character and work ethic will carry you when talent fades away, on or off the court. Lillard told the media as the camp got going that players need a foundation to make it through the noise.
“You’ve got to be stable and strong mentally, you’ve got to be sturdy and have something you can stand on … I want to help them have the stuff that’s not just the talent and is not given to them,” Lillard said. “It would be hard for y’all to find someone who’s sharper and more disciplined than me mentally, and somebody that’s tougher and sharper and better, and more compassionate than me in their heart. That’s stuff that’s been put into me for my whole life that people encouraged, who are part of this camp, that makes me different than a lot of my peers, in my opinion.
“I feel like if I can share that, not just from me but … these same people have done this with so many other kids who just went on to be good people, and have good jobs and have a good life because they have those same values and those same principles. If I can get all those people and myself to pass that along to these kids now … and I give them a better chance going forward, then why not do it?”
And it’s up to those 40 players to keep that burning inside them.
“You can feel motivated right there in the moment with all those people around us and that environment,” Jones said, “but the real challenge is taking it back with you and how you apply it to yourself when you’re back at your school, and how you share it with others.”
JONES STAYS ‘SOLID’ WITH WEBER STATE
Jones shares something else with Lillard, too: he’s a skilled player at a small college who people will try to poach away to a larger school every offseason.
Jones said it started the day after Weber State lost to Montana State in the Big Sky tournament semifinals, people poking around trying to see if he’d leave.
“I just decided I was going to stay solid and stay with Coach (Randy) Rahe because that’s just where my heart lay,” Jones said. “So then he retired, and that was a shock because we had talked about how we were going to do things together. I didn’t really know how to feel.”
That meant the horde returned.
“People were coming back at it to swing at me again,” he said.
But the promotion of Eric Duft did a lot to keep Jones, as he says, solid.
“The reason I stayed solid when Coach Duft got the job is because I know Duft is really passionate. He’s not just doing things, he’s doing it from the heart. Duft is really passionate about what he does,” Jones said. “You don’t have to question if he cares and he’s got our best interests, so I’m all for it. It’s been good … there are differences, they’re different people and we’ve got two new coaches, but they have the same values and same motivations.”
As Duft takes over a program for the first time, director of basketball operations Jorge Ruiz steps into a coaching role and assistant Dan Russell joins up after three years at Montana State, Jones feels good about the direction of the team.
“It feels like that because knowing Duft last year, you would say Duft could be a head coach tomorrow. So now that he is the head coach, it’s not a big shock to anyone. Same thing with Jorge,” he said. “We all thought Jorge could definitely be an assistant coach anywhere so now that he is, we don’t really think too much about it. At least I don’t.”
WSU brought in graduate transfer guard Junior Ballard from Fresno State and third-year sophomore guard Keith Dinwiddie Jr. from San Diego State for a team that’s heavy on sophomores and freshmen, including Jones, Tennessee transfer center Handje Tamba and others.
Weber State has completed the summer portion of workouts where coaches are allowed to instruct and lead practice time. Jones likes the early returns and says the pieces seem to fit together well.
“I think our team will be very different from last year … this might be the year where it fits the most, but it’s August,” he said. “You can think one thing now but you’ll never really know until the lights turn on in November. But I will say I’m encouraged from the things I’ve seen from my teammates, from the young guys, the transfers we have. We’ll see how it goes when November comes, but I think we’re going to be good.”