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SALT LAKE CITY — Damian Lillard and Jimmer Fredette have traveled vastly different paths throughout their basketball careers.
Lillard played in the Big Sky at Weber State; Fredette played in the Mountain West at Brigham Young. Fredette was a nationally acclaimed college player; Lillard was a regional star. So far, Lillard has had a tremendous pro career, yet Fredette has struggled to gain traction in the league.
Lillard scored 18 points for the Portland Trail Blazers in a 105-94 victory over the Utah Jazz Monday night, and received a prolonged ovation during starting introductions from a crowd that was filled with Weber State boosters.
The reigning Rookie of the Year said he appreciates the continued fan support he receives from the Weber faithful.
“It was cool,” Lillard said, referring to the applause. “It was good to see a lot of the faces that I’ve been around my whole experience, and I really appreciate the support that they showed me — even though they’re all Jazz fans.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he has become accustomed to the second-year player’s ability to play well in several different environments.
“I think Damian played the way he normally does, no matter who he's up against,” said Stotts, who is in his second year coaching in Portland. “I know there’s pride in the personal matchups, but as a coach, I thought Damian competed at both ends of the floor.”
I think Damian played the way he normally does, no matter who he's up against. I know there's pride in the personal matchups, but as a coach, I thought Damian competed at both ends of the floor.
Among the Weber State supporters in the crowd was WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee and men’s basketball coach Randy Rahe.
Bovee said Lillard’s success in the NBA has been a tremendous boost to the Weber State brand.
“It’s been huge, but bigger than anything is the way he carries himself off the court,” he said. “What makes him special is what he does away from basketball. His approachability, and what he does for us … he came up to practice today.
“He continues to support and help our program become better.”
In return, Lillard said he makes an effort to stay in touch with his various supporters in Ogden.
“I talk to them (Rahe and Bovee) all the time,” he said. “I’m close to both of those guys. While I was in college they took care of me, so we grew relationships over that time.”
Weber State has done a variety of events to celebrate Lillard’s success, including a teleconference meeting to celebrate the Rookie of the Year award and Ogden’s “Damian Lillard Day.”
Bovee noted the university is continuing to search for ways to celebrate Lillard’s legacy as one of the greatest Wildcat basketball players of all time.
“We are planning to do some things down the road to honor Damian,” he said. “We want to get him graduated first, so that’s the focus — getting that degree. Once we get that accomplished, we’ll talk about some other things.”
What’s going on at Weber State isn’t the other thing in Utah that interests Lillard, though. Lillard is also a big fan of Jazz point guard Trey Burke, and his continued development.
“He’s a good rookie point guard,” said Lillard, regarding Burke. “He’s kind of been making them go. Ever since he’s been back, they’ve been a better team.”