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Isaiah Briscoe Finds Mentor in Damian Lillard

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Whether or not Portland becomes Briscoe’s NBA home, he’s learning from one of the best.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Media Day Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

One open spot remains on the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster, and Kentucky point guard Isaiah Briscoe hopes to earn it. The 21-year-old worked out for the team back in June before receiving a training camp invite last month, and now spends each day pushing himself to keep pace with Portland’s dynamic leader Damian Lillard.

“You can’t take a day off because look who I’m going against,” Briscoe told Blazer’s Edge. “I always got to be there, always got to bring my A game every practice, on offense and on defense. That’s how you get better.”

In college, Briscoe played alongside lottery picks De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo. He is no stranger to stiff competition and a winning culture and, although undrafted in 2017, he may be better than his middling college statistics suggest—not unusual for support players on a star-stuffed roster.

With the Trail Blazers, Briscoe is working to expand his skills as a true point guard under Lillard’s tutelage. He got his first real taste of NBA basketball in the Trail Blazers’ preseason opener on Tuesday night, totaling eight points in nine minutes down the stretch while in charge of setting the offense. He did not play until the fourth quarter, when the Phoenix Suns mounted their comeback, but was ready to capitalize on his opportunity.

Prior to Briscoe’s late-game entrance, his mentor engaged him in an educational conversation.

“[Lillard] is always there for me, giving me the confidence, telling me certain things out on the court.” Briscoe explained. “Actually, I spent the whole halftime talking to him. The complete, whole halftime he was just breaking down little things of the game. He don’t only play the game, but he think it too, and I think that’s where I can get a lot better at is thinking the game. He’s been there mentoring me and just helping me out every chance he gets.”

The lessons imparted would not save Portland from a 114-112 defeat at the hands of the Suns, but they will ring true beyond Briscoe’s preseason debut, which ended with a last-second 3-point attempt on a broken ATO play intended for Pat Connaughton. Briscoe will have more chances to prove himself throughout the preseason, as head coach Terry Stotts allows.

Regardless of how exhibition play shakes out, Lillard, now a veteran entering his sixth NBA season, knows exactly how important his guidance is for Briscoe:

“I learned a lot of things from vets, playing with Mo Williams and Steve Blake and Earl Watson—guys like that—Ronnie Price, Jared Jeffries. There’s so much that I’ve learned that, for a guy like [Briscoe], I need to share it with because it might be the difference in him making or not making our team or not making or making another team because of his approach mentally. Anything I see that he does or anything that I do that I want him to pay attention to, I just share it with him just to try to let him get the most out of this camp.”

The Trail Blazers host the Toronto Raptors at 7:00 PDT tonight and continue to practice on non-gamedays. Whether Briscoe’s time with the Blazers is extended or coming to a close, he will have more opportunities to learn behind the scenes and make his mark on the court.