SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Of fall the local college basketball players that have ever made it to the NBA, no player has had a better rookie season than former Weber State star Damian Lillard.
Headed into his first regular season NBA game in Utah against the Jazz Friday night, the Portland Trailblazers starting point guard is averaging 18.1 points and 6.5 assists per game. He is the clear favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
"It would mean a lot," Lillard said about winning the award. "But, that's not my primary focus. I'm really just trying to help the team win games and hopefully get a playoff berth. As long as we win games, that means I'm playing well and that will lead to individual things."
Lillard has the Blazers contending for a playoff spot with a record of 23-22. Portland trails Houston for the 8th seed by just a half game.
Drafted with the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Lillard has made believers out of everybody. But he still plays with a chip on his shoulder for all the doubters he had coming out of little Weber State.
"I remember when everybody didn't believe in me," Lillard said. "How they said I didn't play against NBA level competition. I didn't believe all the hype and what everybody was saying back then, so now that the tables have turned, I'm not going to start buying into it now. I think anybody who has doubted you, you always want to prove them wrong."
Lillard has started all 45 games in his rookie season, and while he is scoring four more points per game than any other rookie, Lillard is shooting just 42 percent from the field. So, he is constantly working on his game.
"I know that it is a long season," he said. "I don't want to have a one year career. It's about progress and constant improvement. I'm just trying to stay in the moment and not look too far ahead. I just want to keep getting better."
Lillard credits his rise to stardom to his days at Weber State with head coach Randy Rahe.
"My coaches developed me each of my four years there," Lillard said. "It was never like I showed up to Weber State as an NBA player. Each summer, they sat down with me and thought out things that I needed to improve upon. I think every year I improved as a person and a player."
While the transition from the college game to the NBA game has been smooth on the court, life off the court as a professional has took some getting used to for Lillard.
"It's a completely different ballgame," he said. "You all of a sudden have a thousand more family members, and everybody needs a favor. You have a lot of money, so it can be a lot of negative attention, but it is what you make it."
So far, Damian Lillard has made it big.