Damian Lillard has played at an All-Star level throughout his six-year NBA career, whether named to the official All-Star Game roster or not. His performance in the 2018 mid-season showcase in was spectacular, scoring 21 points in 21 minutes as co-leading-scorer of Team Stephen. But as Eric Woodyard of the Desert News points out, Lillard’s rise to stardom is hardly a surprise, given the work that’s gone into it and the respect he’s earned from his NBA peers.
In a lengthy article published on Sunday, Woodyard quotes Lillard’s admirers from around the basketball world, starting with Johnnie Bryant, Utah Jazz assistant coach and friend to Lillard in his younger days.
“Literally if you worked out with a ball, your hands were going to be black when you’re done,” Bryant described. “Our mentor, his coach at the time, Raymond Young, it was raw and uncut in there. We did defensive slides with bricks in our hands, walking around the gym with sand bags.”
He also cites Kevin Durant among those with a healthy respect for Lillard’s prowess:
“Once you’re on that court, we know what Dame can do so it’s not about the respect from anybody else but those 10 guys on the court, the guys on the bench and the coaches,” Durant said. “We’re not going out every game and not even talking about Dame on the scouting report. We know he can go off at any time, so we always had that respect.”
According to Weber State coach Randy Rahe, success has not gone to Lillard’s head.
“He is a big deal but he doesn’t think he’s a big deal,” Rahe said. “He hates it when people thinks he’s a big deal because he think he’s a normal guy that’s working hard to try to be successful.”
And Woodyard quotes Lillard himself, keeping his eyes on the prize:
“I don’t want to be one of those guys that does this, has this record and does all these things and I don’t at least give myself a chance to compete for a championship.”
The article has plenty more anecdotes and thoughts from those who have crossed Lillard’s path inside the NBA and out.