Two seasons into his professional career, there have been few situations that felt too big for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. Whether it’s back-to-back game-winners in the regular season, competing in all five events at All-Star Weekend or simultaneously elating an entire fan base while crushing the dreams of another with a playoff series-clinching shot, Lillard has shown that shrinking away from a challenge apparently isn’t in his DNA.
Which is why Lillard felt no nerves competing against a collection of the best players in the world at the first practice USA Basketball practice on the campus on UNLV in Las Vegas.
“”I’m here for a reason,” said Lillard. “If they didn’t feel like I belonged here, they didn’t have to bring me here, cause a lot of people aren’t here. So I don’t even think about that. Not even once.”
Even with players like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant sitting out the 2014 FIBA World Cup, there’s no basketball team more difficult in the world to make than USA Basketball Men’s National Team. Given that, one can imagine that the pressure to perform against a preliminary roster comprised of players who would be shoe-ins to make any other country’s national team would be intense, but that’s just not the case for Lillard. Being afraid of competition, even at it’s highest levels, is foreign to Lillard as the teams he hopes to be playing against in Spain come September.
“When you’re on the court with (Kevin Durant), James Harden, Derrick Rose, I know what they can do, playing against them and watching them,” said Lillard. “So I don’t need to go out there and do all this extra stuff when I can make the game simple for myself. I know what I’m capable of. I know I can knock down shots, I can get to the rim, I can compete here. I’m here for a reason. No nerves at all. I’m just playing.”
Though as he notes, Lillard’s not playing the same role he does in Portland as one half of a potent inside-outside duo with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. That can be difficult for some players, especially when trying to make the final cut by impressing the coaching staff, but when you remove the fear of not making the team from the equation, it becomes easier to settle into a complimentary role.
“I still played, I was myself,” said Lillard. “Obviously I would be more aggressive when I’m playing for (the Trail Blazers). But everybody here can be more aggressive and do more. I think it’s going to take getting in the lane and making that extra pass, getting somebody an easier shot, selling myself to space away from the ball instead of going toward the ball. And I’m just trying to get myself comfortable doing that, instead of just trying to come out here and say, ‘I can do this and I can do that.’ That’s what I’m going to do during the season. But here, I think I need to do more showing what I can do to help this team.”
“These guys are playing 35 to 40 minutes, they’re the dominate players on their teams,” said USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Here, you don’t get as many shots, you don’t get as many minutes, so they can play defense harder, they don’t need to pace themselves.”
Lillard came off the bench for Rose during a scrimmage Monday afternoon and looked as though he was taking Krzyzewski’s message to heart as he hounded Kyrie Irving and John Wall on defense while infrequently looking for his own shot on offense. And while he might not have had any highlight plays, he showed that the role he’d ultimately have on Team USA is one he’s more than willing to fill.
“You’ll see guys who don’t have a reputation for playing hard defense picking up full-court,” said Lillard, possibly using himself as an example. “You’ll see guys doing stuff that basically shows you that there are going sell themselves for the greater good of the team. And that’s what it’s all about. You see the passion that they play with and that’s the difference. That’s what it takes to be able to a part of something like (USA Basketball).”
How Lillard comports himself during the remaining practices and the scrimmage on Friday evening will go a long way to deciding whether he’ll be spending September in Europe as a part of Team USA or in Portland preparing for the 2014-15 NBA season. The competition is stiff, but his odds of making the World Cup roster are in no way the longest he’s faced in his life, let alone as a basketball player. He may fail, as all of us eventually do, but he’s not going to fear the challenge nor come away from the experience empty-handed.
“It’s one of those things where anybody could make (the World Cup roster) and anybody could not make it,” said Lillard. “You can’t be mad if you don’t make it. But if you do make it, you can be really thankful because it can go either way. Everybody’s worthy. Everybody can bring something special to the team. So I think we’ve just got to take advantage of this week, just really work hard, go against each other and try to make each other better. At the end of the week, they’ll decide what they want to decide. But I think we should just take advantage of having this company for a whole week.”
It’s summer time in Portland (or at least, it’s supposed to be), which means there’s no lack of street fairs, farmers markets, beerfests and art walks to attend. Anyone who frequents such events knows how hard it can be to get from Point A to Point B when there’s thousands of people in between.
But Damian Lillard has you covered. In a new adidas short entitled “Creating Clutch,” the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State traverses a busy street market in China (wearing the “PDX Carpet” colorway of the D Lillard 2, if I’m not mistaken) using an array of moves that you can incorporate into your own crowd-surfing…
In “Creating Clutch,” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard shows us there is no such thing as downtime if you want to be one of the best clutch players in the NBA. A crowded street market in China during his recent Summer tour became his court, the ultimate opportunity to test his creativity and put his skills to the test.
Playing in front of capacity crowds at arenas all across country is old hat for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. But his next performance will be in front of a different kind of crowd, at a different type of venue and in a completely different trade.
Lillard announced today on his Twitter account that he would be holding his first full-scale concert under his nom de rap Dame D.O.L.L.A on July 15th, which happens to be his 26th birthday, at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The show is the latest sign of Lillard’s evolution as an artist, which started in earnest with his Four Bar Friday project, which grew into a regular Music Monday feature, then a music video that aired on national television and now a show in front of a live audience.
The 6-3 point guard/rapper has performed in front of small crowds before, most recently during an Adidas-sponsored trip to Manila, but has never held a real show with advanced ticketing at a legitimate venue. Lillard will be joined onstage by his cousin Brookfield Deuce, who has been featured on a number of Dame D.O.L.L.A tracks, with DJ OG One handling duties on the ones and twos, as the kids say. Lillard is also giving some stage time to local pastor Duoshun Pledgegure, who raps under the name Rose Ciddy and is a frequent participant in Lillard’s Four Bar Friday series. And who knows, perhaps one or two of his teammates decide to test their rap skills under the bright lights.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show and can be purchased at the Crystal Ballroom’s website. There are only 1,500 tickets available, so if you want to go, you’d be wise to purchase asap.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Regarding what he’d tell free agents who might have “red flags” about joining Portland’s locker room…
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team on how we do things, what will be tolerated and what won’t. If we happen to get someone that has red flags, we don’t know for sure if that’s ‘he said, she said’ or if it’s real or if it’s the situation or people around him or what. But if it comes to our culture and our individual, it will be addressed. Nobody going to back down to nobody, let somebody come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. That’s not just me. I’m going to be the first one to say something because that’s just what it is. I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back that up. We show up every day to practice to work, we show up on time, we hold each other accountable, we allow our teammates to hold us accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do cute stuff, we show up and do what we’ve got to do and that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to work.”