OAKLAND, Calif. – Damian Lillard will likely be the first point guard taken in Thursday's NBA draft, prompting many TV viewers to ask the same question:
Who's Damian Lillard?
Lillard is a junior from Weber State, a Big Sky Conference school that has produced three NBA players since 1995, including former journeyman guard Eddie Gill. If fans don't know him now, he thinks they'll quickly learn about him once he plays in the NBA.
"There are some people who are real basketball fans who know what’s really going on and know who I am," Lillard said. "But for a lot of people when I get drafted they’ll say, 'Why did they pick him? Who is this guy?' It is not unfamiliar for me because I’ve always been that guy that people don’t know. But then they start to learn about me.
"I feel like eventually I’m going to win people over because I’m going to get better."
Lillard was a big scorer at Oakland High School, but wasn’t invited to play for the AAU Oakland Soldiers, whose alumni include LeBron James, Leon Powe, Chauncey Billups, Drew Gordon, Eddie House and Kendrick Perkins. Lillard also wasn’t heavily recruited by college powerhouses: Only Weber State, Fullerton State, Bradley, Wichita State and Washington State made scholarship offers. He chose the small school in Ogden, Utah, primarily because it offered him a scholarship first.
Lillard led the NCAA in scoring for much of last season before finishing second with an average of 24.5 points per game. The 2012 Big Sky Most Valuable Player led Weber State to a 25-7 record while shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range. He also showed surprising athleticism for his size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) by throwing down alley-oop dunks.
Lillard was rarely shown on television, but NBA scouts certainly know him. An Eastern Conference scout projects him to be selected between Nos. 10-20. A Western Conference scout likened him to a young Mo Williams.
"He’s a confident and aggressive scorer with no conscience," one East scout said. "He’s more of a volume streaky scorer. At times he can play selfish in terms of making sure his teammates are involved."
Lillard says his toughness comes from growing up in Oakland, which has produced several NBA players in Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Brian Shaw, J.R. Rider and House.
"Just watching G.P. in the NBA to when I met him, he talks a lot because he got Oakland in him,” Lillard said. “Just being from Oakland I got to hold that up. When I’m playing against somebody I feel like there is a certain attitude you have to have because you’re from Oakland. I saw [Payton] do it against Michael Jordan and he had that look like, 'I’m from Oakland.'
"He had that type of mindset. He influenced me in that type of way. I have to represent where I’m from and compete against anybody."
A select group of players from lesser-known schools have found success in NBA in recent years, including the Detroit Pistons’ Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington), the Indiana Pacers’ George Hill (IUPUI) and Paul George (Fresno State) and the Utah Jazz’s Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech). Lillard has the talent to also join the list.
"Nothing has ever been handed to me," Lillard said. "I got to know what’s good for me. I got to be hungry to prove people wrong. I’m kind of excited that people don’t think I’m as tall as I am or athletic. The doubters – that’s what keeps me fueled."
More players to watch
Will Barton, Memphis, SG, 6-6, 175: Good athlete, plays hard, runs the floor, finishes above rim. Slim, but stuffs stat sheet.
Drew Gordon, New Mexico, F, 6-9, 245: Rebounds, defends, plays physical. Loves to do dirty work. Doesn’t need ball to be effective.
JaMychal Green, Alabama, F, 6-8, 225: Solid pick-and-pop forward with nice jumper. Great athlete. Played well in Portsmouth.
Orlando Johnson, Santa Barbara, SF, 6-5, 205: Plays bigger than size. Solid jumper. Has talent and mentality to play immediately.
Moe Harkless, St. John’s, F, 6-9, 190: Big upside. Versatile, young/ Sill needs to develop at small forward and get stronger.
Darius Miller, Kentucky, SF, 6-8, 225: Overshadowed on Kentucky's loaded roster. Great size at position. Unselfish.
Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech, G, 6-6, 195: Strong scorer who shoots well off the dribble and has great range.
Kyle O’Quinn, Norfolk State, C, 6-10, 240: Mature, tough kid, despite size. Potential concern: He’s a below-the-rim rebounder.
Dominique Sutton, North Carolina Central, SG/SF, 6-5, 212: The 25-year-old has a body built for football. Tough, aggressive player.
Casper Ware, Long Beach State, PG, 5-10, 175: Small, but quick. Can shoot. Next Isaiah Thomas? The Kings guard, not the Pistons Hall of Famer.
Charlie Westbrook, South Dakota, SG, 6-4, 208: One of the most athletic scoring guards in draft. Averaged 18.7 points last season.
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