Damian Lillard set to become first local college player to play on U.S. Olympic basketball team


OGDEN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Weber State head basketball coach Randy Rahe has watched Damian Lillard go from a barely-recruited kid coming out of high school to one of the best basketball players in the world.

There is very little Rahe doesn’t know about Lillard. But he didn’t know that the former Weber State star is set to make some local history.

Lillard is about to become the first player from a Utah college to play on the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. Former Utes star Danny Vranes made the team in 1980, but did not play because of the United States boycott.

“I did not know that,” Rahe said. “It’s pretty special. It really is, and if anybody is going to do it, he deserves it, that’s for sure. It’s a little surprising with all the great college players that have been through the state of Utah. But it also speaks to who Damian is, the job he’s done and how good he is.”

How good is he? Lillard and LeBron James are the only two NBA players to average at least 25 points per game in each of the last six seasons.

After a condensed, grueling NBA season, Lillard could have opted out of the Tokyo Games like many of the big stars did, and rest up for his 10th season with the Portland Trailblazers. But Lillard wanted to play in his first Olympics.

“We talked about that a little bit when he was considering going and playing,” Rahe said. “I think one thing is [Gregg] Popovich is coaching. Damian has always had tremendous respect for Pop. But again, Damian is a loyal guy. He’s been loyal to us. He’s been loyal to Portland. He’s been loyal to his friends and family. He’s also loyal to the United States.

Lillard, who left Weber State after his junior season in 2012, always comes back to Weber State every year to spend time at his alma mater.

“Yeah, he’s great with our guys,” Rahe said. “Our guys sit down and talk to him. He’s still endorsing our culture up here. Even though he’s been gone, he talks to the guys and says this is how it’s done at Weber State. He’ll work with the guys some. He’ll let some of the guys sometimes work out with him. Damian likes to come back and does so just about every summer because he can just be Damian. Nobody bothers him.”

From winning NBA Rookie of the Year, to becoming a 6-time NBA All-Star, Lillard now wants Olympic gold as he continues to prove all the doubters, that started back in his days at Weber State, wrong.

“That’s really who he is,” Rahe said. “The chip on his shoulder, and I’m going to show you, and you don’t think I can do this. Well, watch me. That’s been his whole mentality ever since I’ve known him. I texted him when I found out he made the team, and I said now I will be glued to the TV. I can’t wait to watch him and the rest of the guys play.”

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